Lock Down Reveals More MU Alert Sign-Ups Needed

Zoe LaPorte, Multimedia Editor

Students hunkered down and sought refuge according to instructions during the year’s second emergency lock down in October.

But not everyone got the emergency alert message, said Robert Zavada, Director of Campus Safety and Security.

“Certain places were really buttoned down tight, and people took interest in doing [the exercise],” he said, “and then of course there were some places that either didn’t get the message, disregarded the publicized message, or didn’t know about it.”

Zavada  said he and other officials are studying their communication methods with the community.

“We found that there were at least 350 people who had, at one time, signed up for MU Alert, and their account had expired.” He said, “So they either didn’t get the message or disregarded it.”

Zavada said the exercises are aimed at helping the campus community to think about emergencies before they arise.

“They’re not to scare people, but they are good exercises for people to think seriously about how to react to a dangerous situations and for people to make their own decisions,” he said.

The first lock down exercise of 2018 took place in the spring semester, and the campus community received prior notice via email and other announcements from Campus Safety. The exercise lasted about 15 minutes.

MU Alert, the university’s text message alert system, is used for sending notifications to community members about school closures and other emergencies. It is heavily relied upon during events such as the latest lock down exercise.

“And we found that there were that many people who had signed up at one time and were expired so that they didn’t get the messages,” he said, “but even a little more troubling, within the campus community we found that there were maybe over 1000 people that just didn’t ever sign up.”

With a large campus community, including students, faculty, staff, visitors, contractors, food service workers and more, it can be difficult to include everyone in one exercise, Zavada said.

“In the spring, we found that the food service group, an outside agency, had a disconnect,” he said. “Managers in that area were not on the MU Alert system, because they’re not directly connected with Misericordia, so we made efforts to get them all signed up on the system.”

Officials gave specific instructions to food service workers inside the John and Mary Metz Dining Hall in case of any hostile intruder situation. The fall lock down exercise demonstrated improvement, Zavada said.

Zavada said there are still some issues to work out before the next exercise.

“It was somewhat better in areas, but there were still some deficits that we really need to correct,” he said. “There are very difficult areas here on campus, and a lot of buildings that you could effectively go into hiding.”

Zavada referred to classrooms “fish bowls,” and said taking some action during an emergency is better than taking none. He mentioned turning off the lights, moving into an area out of sight, or to a different location, among many possibilities.

“We want to know where these trouble spots are so that we can come up with some plans,” he said.

He said some classrooms do not have lockable doors, and that there are plans to implement effective and quick ways to lock these classrooms in the event of an emergency. He said officials may also install window shades in rooms that are exposed.

Junior psychology and pre-doctor of physical therapy major Dawson Kerch feels the lock down exercises are generally effective, even if they do not go as planned.

“I was just minding my own business, you know, walking the halls in downstairs in Insalaco hall when all of a sudden I was rushed into a room by a professor who said we’re having a lockdown exercise,” he said.

Kerch felt that the professor followed protocol, and that his experience with the spring lock down exercise was also effective.

“I was in anatomy class in the Science building. We all crowded into the corner of the room, turned off the lights and we brought the skeleton in the room over too. Just in case.”

Kerch said the lock downs have helped him prepare for an emergency anywhere on campus, such as his dorm or the Banks Student Life Center.

Similarly, first-year English major Beth Cote feels prepared after the exercise.

“I was in class in Room 400 of Mercy Hall, and my professor directed us to go outside, so we went down the stairs in front of the building,” she said. “Some of us went into the library, some of us went back into our dorms, and some of us kind of got into a circle and were like ‘this is not right.’”

Cote took her her group into a conference room on the second floor of Mercy Hall and hid there for the rest of the exercise.

“I personally feel prepared. I mean I was the one who kind of brought us up into the room,” she said.

Lock down exercises will be held again, possibly without warning, Zavada said. He wants all members of the community to be prepared, signed up for MU Alert, and able to follow instructions during the exercises.

“Think about that it’s not that much time in your day when we run these exercises, to just get into that mindset for that brief period,” he said. “That can really be beneficial somewhere in the future. We’re not trying to scare people or be dramatic about it.”

Zavada said emergencies are unpredictable, and that the only thing predictable is that they can happen anywhere at any time.