In the wake of a shooting on the Sacramento City College campus Thursday afternoon, students are asking whether school officials could have done more to notify them sooner. Many raised concerns on social media during the incident.
Los Rios Community College District’s information officer, Rick Brewer said, the first notice was an email to faculty, staff and district officials at 4:18 p.m. The shooting had taken place just before 4 p.m.
The initial email read: "The SCC main campus is on lockdown. All staff members and instructors – close and lock your office and classroom doors until further notice."
Students were alerted next, by text, phone or email around 4:40 p.m. An all-clear message was sent out at 7:45 p.m.
City College professor Don Button says, “I think the emails, other than the initial one, were very good and thorough. But the text and phone messages were far too late. They are supposed to be the first warning.”
Campus spokesman Brewer says getting information out more quickly would have been ideal. But his office, which is charged with sending out alerts to students, was trying to sort conflicting information about the incident.
“Our office was halfway across campus from where this incident occurred. By the time we heard about it, it seemed like there were rumors,” he says. “We were dealing with conflicting information for quite a few minutes, until we heard specifically from that chain of command. And that’s why didn’t put out information until we knew exactly what the information was. Our college was not going to put out erroneous information just to be fast.”
Sacramento City College’s protocol is to have its police dispatch ascertain the information, send that to the police chief, who then relays it to the district’s Vice President of Administration. The two will then determine whether the campus should be put on lockdown.
“Whether we got it out five minutes earlier, ten minutes earlier or another hour, no other students at any time was threatened or endangered after that initial incident,” Brewer says. “The perpetrator left campus immediately and did not go into any other buildings, did not accost any other students or staff and there was no threat to any other person.”
Brewer says in the coming days Los Rios officials will analyze the events surrounding the fatal shooting and determine whether response might be changed.
“I think we’re always looking at how we can improve. At this particular time we don’t have an overall assessment of everything that’s transpired,” he says. “We will look at the entire procedure, not only here at Sac City College, but with [the] other three colleges and with our district office. We will talk it out and make modifications to the process that will help us inform the staff and our students.”
Capital Public Radio called other universities, colleges and school districts in the region to see what emergency communication systems are in place.
Sue Michaels is the public information officer at Sierra College. She said when an incident occurs they follow very specific steps for getting the facts and alerting the community. Once an incident is reported and the agencies respond to the scene, the on-site incident commander contacts Michaels and gives her the message she’ll send out to staff and students.
“I immediately enact my PIO team and each one of us has a role to play,” says Michaels. “The thing about communication is you have to hit every venue possible to reach the maximum amount of people. We use everything we can.”
“Venues’ include text messages, emails, phone calls, the school website, loudspeakers and involving the news media as soon as possible, she says.
Michaels says they always try to alert the community as soon as possible.
“Unless,” she says, “the incident commander said there was a life and limb reason to not release information right away.”
UNIVERSITY OF THE PACIFIC
Director of Communications Claudia Morain says when an emergency happens on campus the first consideration in regard to communication is whether, now there “is there an immediate danger and is there information we can provide that will help people stay safe.”
“We have to be cognizant of how the information is being received - we want it to be helpful. If it would just raise concern or making a situation worse - you might wait ten minutes or 15 minutes or a half hour - until a decision's been reached,” says Morain.
Morain says her ideal is no more than 15 minutes, but she can see how it might take longer.
SACRAMENTO STATE UNIVERSITY
The Sac State campus Chief of Police Mark M. Iwasa, says his department is cautious about sending incident information.
“When there’s an incident that has the potential to risk the safety or health of students, faculty or staff, when we can competently send out a message that could help in mitigating that threat we will do so,” he says. “But three things need to be able to be answered before you send that message out, one is what is happening, two, where it’s happening and three, what you should do about it.”
Students are automatically enrolled in the emergency alert system, which will email, call and text them.
Andrew Fell, Associate Director of News And Media Relations, says in an emergency situation, there’s a danger that wrong information will get disseminated.
“The fact is, information can be contradictory, it could be hard to come by, there could be rumors flying around, it’s important to get accurate information quickly,” he says. “At the same time, people need to understand answers might not come right away.”
If there’s an ongoing incident at UC Davis, such as active shooter situation, on-campus police decide whether to institute a lockdown or start an evacuation. An incident command would be set up, which may be comprised of police, fire and other emergency personnel. He says the ideal would be to send out an initial alert through the university’s WARN ME system, with verified information within five to six minutes if there is a potentially life-threatening situation.
“We try to get as accurate information as we can through the systems that are set up for managing emergencies, and try to distribute that either through the WARN ME messages, also through the campus website,” Fell says.
SACRAMENTO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Within the Sacramento Unified School District, the principal at each school is responsible for making the decision to place the campus on lockdown.
Gabe Ross with the district, says principals are trained to err on the side of caution and will often implement the lockdown or a shelter-in-place even if it is precautionary.
“Every situation is different and what we train our principals and staff on is being nimble, even the best processes need to be adjusted based on the specific circumstances that you’re presented,” he says.
If a lockdown is imposed, the next step is notifying parents. The principal is also the person who sends out auto-calls and emails to families.
“The principal needs to make sure first the school is secure and safe and then communicating with families is also a high priority,” he says.
During Thursday’s Sacramento City College shooting, Hollywood Park Elementary, Leonardo da Vinci School (K-8), Bret Harte Elementary and McClatchy High School were put on lockdown as a precaution, due to their proximity to the incident.