Open discussion at Pierce in response to Umpqua shootings

Grace Amsden, Editor-in-Chief

The objective at the Oct. 8 forum at Pierce College Puyallup was to address security practices at Pierce and listen to staff and student concerns. Officials also answered questions from audience members.

According to Michele Johnson, chancellor for the Pierce College District, an open forum was necessary, given the Oct. 1 mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.

“I think it came really close to home for folks, especially being in Oregon (and) being a community college,” Johnson said. “I think that just elevated people’s vulnerability, so that’s why we had the forum.”  

Johnson also said the forum was held because of an ongoing email thread among Pierce faculty as a result to the news of the Umpqua shootings, which sparked conversations questioning emergency safety measures.

“We thought it was probably time just to have an open forum and be able to address those questions instead of continuing to have people asking them on email,” Johnson said.

The forum began with a moment of silence for the Umpqua shooting victims, led by Pierce College Puyallup President Marty Cavalluzzi.

Chris MacKersie, director of safety and security, continued the forum by presenting information about emergency preparedness practices at Pierce. First aid kids were discussed. Campus safety officers are in charge of monitoring them, according to MacKersie.

“We have a midnight shift security officer, and that individual does things like doing system checks, checking our fire extinguishers and things of that nature,” MacKersie said, “and so one of their assignments also is to make sure the first aid kits are stocked.”

Two trauma kits on campus (large duffel bags) carry enough supplies to help up to 100 people.

The emergency notification system at Pierce College was discussed. The system alerts staff and students by providing information if there is a threat on campus. Students can receive notifications by signing into MyPierce and selecting the tab “emergency notifications” and then select where they want the notifications to be sent, the options being text, email, mobile phone and/or home phone.  

“The last couple of years, we’ve been refining it,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to get everybody to know that they have the ability to have access to that.”

The system was tested Oct. 7 and then used to inform students and staff about The Great Washington Shakeout, an evacuation practice across the state for the preparation of an earthquake on campus Oct. 15.

Emergency trainings were another topic at the forum. Pierce participates in run, hide, fight trainings. The first step in this process is to escape from the place where the threat is present. The second step, if the first doesn’t work, is to create a barrier between the threat by hiding. The third is to fight against the threat.

“It’s the primary training tool that we choose to use,” MacKersie said. “It’s also the recommended best practice from the federal government. There are some places that still focus on lockdown. That’s primarily on the K-12 system, but they have a completely different environment.”

Mackersie held a training session last year that he presented at both Pierce campuses. About 50 students between the Puyallup and Fort Steilcoom campus attended.

To engage students in trainings, Johnson said emergency trainings within COLLG110 classes or at student orientations is being deliberated on. This leads into a recent idea Johnson shared about having a script, a brief outline that faculty members would create for their students containing information regarding emergencies, whether for an earthquake, fire or active shooter on campus.

“We’re looking at the various ways to see how do you really engage students,” Johnson said, “and I think part of the problem is most of us go, ‘Well, that’s not going to happen to me.’ When you’re in the emergency and you’re trying to figure out what you’re going to do, it’s probably too late. You should be doing it ahead of time.”

Other topics at the forum comprised reminders of the emergency call boxes on campus and resources for online safety information (such as the Shots Fired video on the campus safety page). There was also talk about weapons at Pierce and campus safety’s role with them, which is that weapons aren’t carried or used by campus safety officers.

Perry Doidge, student advocacy senator, said he’d like to see campus safety officers carry some form of weapon to protect the students at Pierce.

“If there’s a person with a gun, I want to know that I’m protected and that they’ll (campus safety officers) be able to protect me,” Doidge said.

Doidge said the weapon wouldn’t necessarily have to be a gun or knife, but with the use of something, it may mean the “life or death for a lot of people” considering the few minutes for police, fire and rescue to arrive on campus.

Sean Moran, assistant professor for information systems, shared his thoughts regarding safety in the staff email thread about the Umpqua shootings. His idea of a “panic button”  that he developed, after hearing about the Umpqua incident, focuses on the safety of his students.

“The last thing in the world I would ever want is to see one of them (my students), or myself or my wife, who’s also faculty here, get hurt,” Moran said.

For the computer information systems program, Moran said he develops attachments with his students as he often gets to work with them for two years, the duration of the CIS program for an associate degree.  

Moran’s vision consists of a simple application installed onto one’s cellphone. Students or staff at Pierce could press the panic button if there was a threat, and the message could transfer directly to campus safety and perhaps 911, if decided upon.

“I love technology and I particularly like to solve problems with technology,” Moran said.  “If we can find a way to do that where everybody wins, I think that’s something worth pursuing.”

MacKersie said there are plenty conversations for different ideas in safety and doesn’t believe there’s a “perfect” system figured out in the community and technical college system, but said that changes are constantly being made in preparation for emergencies.

MacKersie’s immediate goal is to have student participation at the active shooter run, hide, fight trainings, should an incident such as the one at Umpqua happen at Pierce. On Oct. 27, there was two training sessions on the Puyallup campus as well as a session on Oct. 28 and Oct. 29.  Some of the objectives included learning how to respond to an active shooter incident, how law enforcement officers respond and observing for suspicious behaviors.

“I’m hoping that we’ll be in a much better position by having a much higher degree of participation in the training,” MacKersie said.

The response time for local law enforcement to arrive to campus is quick, according to MacKersie, but until they arrive, there isn’t much law enforcement can do.

“The best thing we can do is make sure we train all the employees (and) all the students so that they have as much knowledge as possible about what they can do,” MacKersie said.

After the forum, Johnson said the discussion went well, but said there’s always hope for more attendance. She stresses that one can never be “over prepared” if there’s an active shooter or other emergency.

“It could happen at any time, and it could,” Johnson said. “And so I think we just have to know that the world in which we live, these things happen.”

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost

Grace Amsden
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Grace Amsden

Former Editor-in-Chief at The Puyallup Post
Grace Amsden
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Open discussion at Pierce in response to Umpqua shootings

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