AU Alerts have been used to notify students about events ranging from hazardous weather to an off-campus stabbing.
But when three non-student soldiers from Fort Benning came into a Haley Center classroom last month, the University Department of Public Safety and Security said the situation didn't warrant an alert.
"My understanding from the police was they never perceived a threat, there was no confrontation of any kind and no threats expressed verbally; there were no altercations with these gentlemen, so they did not perceive it as a threat to anyone on campus," said Susan McCallister associate director of public safety, information and education.
McCallister said an alert is issued when there is a situation that requires a large group on campus to take immediate action. She said since the police told the University they had the situation under control, an alert was unnecessary.
"What was determined was that this incident turned out no to be much of an incident after all," Dean of Students Johnny Green said in an e-mail. "A bit of over-reacting and misunderstanding on the part of some of those involved."
A few weeks after the incident, a meeting was held during the class period to discuss what had happened and how it was handled.
In addition to the students and the professor, Matthew Pettit, a graduate student in public administration and member of the class, said two police officers, the department head of political science and individuals from the University's Department of Public Safety and Security were there. McCallister said the meeting was an opportunity for follow-up discussion about the incident, where students were able air their concerns to the administration.
"It was just open-ended for them." McCallister said. "They didn't really know how the situation was resolved, and so we wanted to put some closure to it for those students. We really thought it was important to show the students it was very important to us that they felt comfortable with the situation being resolved and that we really did want to hear their thoughts on it."
She said the police also gave a summary of the incident, and students were given an opportunity to ask questions and give suggestions about ways it could have been handled differently.
Tara Hill, a graduate student in public administration and member of the class, said she thinks the University relies on teachers and students too much for information about what is happening on campus.
"I think that this is a situation they could learn something from," Hill said.
Pettit agrees campus security has room for improvement. He said his biggest complaint is the University didn't inform students about what happened on campus, even after they dealt with it.
"Our current system of handling emergencies if broken," Pettit said. "We need to evaluate it and we need to fix it."
Melvin Owens, executive director of the Department of Public Safety and Security, said every time an AU Alert is issued, the staff in the safety department evaluates how they handle emergencies.
"After each time it's used, we sit back and look at it, and we receive feedback from the University community," Owens said.
But AU Alerts are not the only tool the Department of Public Safety and Security has at its disposal for dealing with an emergency.
Chance Corbett, associate director of Emergency Management, said the University started a program called Campus Community Emergency Response Team in July 2008 to train University employees who volunteer for the program how to handle emergency situations.
When the safety department started the CCERT program, its aim was to train certain people on every floor of every building how to respond during an emergency or threat at the University.
However, members are not trained to deal with potentially dangerous individuals on campus, like what happened March 9.
"We don't want them to deal with anybody like that," Corbett said. "We want them to be the first person to call 911. We want them to understand this is a police matter, we need to get the police over here."
Corbett said he views this program as a way to increase security on campus and improve communication between the University and emergency professionals.
"The biggest thing I want everybody to know is we're not trying to replace the police, we're not trying to replace the fire department, we're trying to supplement them," Corbett said.
Owens said University employees are invited to volunteer for the program and the safety department asks people like deans, who know the building and the people who work there, which of the volunteers would be good candidates for the program.
The program is made up of volunteers because the safety department wants to make sure they are willing to take on the extra responsibility, Owens said.
CCERT members are on-duty during regular working hours, and are responsible for the floor they work on.
Corbett said they train a certain number of people based on the size of the building and the number of people on each floor. He said Haley Center has about six to eight trained people on each floor.
After the course, the CCERT members are given a bag with tools like a flashlight and first aid kit that can be used in an emergency.
"We don't expect these people to go running into a fire or running into any danger," Corbett said. "However, while they're evacuating, if they see somebody who needs a hand and direction on the way to get out, or appears that they're still having class and didn't get the warning, they can actually tell them (there is an emergency and they need to take action)."
However, not all the buildings on campus are completely trained yet. While Haley Center and the Ralph Brown Draughon Library have trained members on all the floors, Corbett said they are still working on the rest of the buildings on campus.
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