INSTITUTE, W.Va. — Members of the State Police, the Nitro Police, the Institute Volunteer Fire Department and other emergency personnel swarmed West Virginia State University’s campus Friday morning.
It was just a test.
School and law enforcement officials performed an active-shooter drill, where officers role play and use non-lethal training ammunition to mimic a shooting situation on campus.
Warning sirens sounded, text messages were sent to students and staff members enrolled in the university’s emergency notification system and officials watched the clock as first responders arrived.
“A drill of this magnitude has not previously been done,” WVSU spokeswoman Kimberly Osborne said. “Law enforcement stepped right in, and it was seamless. Everyone was on the same page. When you do drills like this, you learn, and that was the point.”
Realistic and comprehensive emergency drills like WVSU’s should be expected across the state’s college campuses, thanks to a new set of campus safety procedures approved earlier this year, said Neal Holly, director of policy and strategic initiatives for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.
The HEPC’s Series 54 policy, which establishes guidelines and procedures for colleges’ response plans to on-campus emergencies, now requires all public four-year institutions to hold at least one campus-wide emergency drill each year.
The policy is a way for the state to make sure its colleges are abiding by the Clery Act, federal laws associated with campus safety.
“Under this new rule, it’s something we’re going to be seeing across the state — institutions working with their local communities to hold these kind of events to make sure everyone’s prepared to handle these situations,” Holly said. “We can’t ensure anybody’s safety. We do everything we can, within reason, to provide a safe learning environment for students, but going to a college campus is just like going to a town or being part of any community — things will happen. What we can do, just like any other community does, is try to ensure that polices and procedures are in place to help support a safe environment.”
Series 54 requires all schools to have an emergency plan in place that addresses natural disasters, violent acts and health-related emergencies, such as the breakout of an infectious disease.
Those plans have to be reviewed internally each year and submitted to the HEPC, according to the policy.
Holly said it’s up to the leaders of each school to decide which plans best fit their campus.
“All of the institutions have to have those plans in place, but those plans range. They’re diverse, due to the nature of our campuses. You have WVU, which has a campus of 30,000, and then smaller campuses, with less than 1,500 students,” he said. “There’s not a one-size-fits-all procedure.”
While the active-shooter scenario is not required, it’s being used more, Holly said, because of national stories of campus shootings.
But it’s important to not neglect other dangerous scenarios because of too much attention to a shooting-specific scenario, he said.
“Since Virginia Tech, everyone’s been so focused on gun violence and violent acts, we really kind of lost track of what if a tornado hits. What if there’s a weather emergency and we’re out of power for four days? How are we going to react to that?” Holly said. “We can’t let other things, such as reacting to weather-related emergencies and things like infections disease fall through the cracks. Series 54 asks campuses to make sure that they have a comprehensive emergency plan that addresses a more holistic range of issues.”
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