ORONO, Maine — In the wake of another attack at an American higher learning institution, Maine university and college officials say they are making efforts both to prevent incidents and to prepare students for escaping harm in the event tragedy strikes close to home.
On Monday, an assailant rammed a car into a crowd of people at Ohio State University, got out of the vehicle, and attacked nearby victims with a knife. Just minutes after the attack started, a campus police officer ended it by shooting and killing the suspect. Eleven victims were taken to hospitals after suffering injuries in the attack.
At the University of Maine, the tremendous logistical challenge officials would face in trying to involve thousands of students, staff and faculty prevents any university-wide training or drilling for these sorts of situations. Instead, the school offers training to some of its staff, information about precautions to its students, and uses a mobile alert system to quickly disseminate urgent safety messages campus-wide.
During orientation this summer, incoming students and their parents were urged to sign up for emergency alerts and encouraged to watch a video about how to respond if an active shooter or other threat hits campus. Brochures are doled out to share more safety information. The goal, UMaine officials say, is to ensure thousands of university staff and students know what steps to take if the worst happens.
“Police have gone to various classes for training, [and] certain staff and faculty groups have asked for and received training, as well,” Dean of Students Robert Dana said.
Dana said UMaine stresses the importance of getting out ahead of any potential emergency or threat. If students see or hear something concerning, they should report it, he said.
News of the attack in Ohio flooded out quickly, thanks to the university’s Buckeye Alerts, an emergency alert system that allows university officials to send warnings to cellphones via text and social media messages.
The University of Maine System and its campuses subscribe to a similar service called E2Campus. It allows the university to send messages to every student, staff member, parent or community member who subscribes to receive messages.
“No emergency is scripted, it can always unfold in unexpected ways,” said Kelly Stevens, who serves as co-chair of the University of Southern Maine’s Emergency Response Team.
These notifications give the university a means of providing frequent updates to students, allowing them to know what locations are safe and what are not, and helping them determine how to stay safe in an emergency event.
The OSU alert told students and staff to “Run, Hide, Fight.” Run, Hide, Fight originated as a catchphrase from the City of Houston and Department of Homeland Security to recommend how to react if involved in an active shooter or similar situation. It has since been adopted by the National Incident Management System, which is used across the county by institutions as the boilerplate for emergency response plans.
The Run, Hide, Fight doctrine is built around the idea that the first option should be to escape danger if possible. If that isn’t an option — for example the attacker is in the same building — people should hide, turn off lights and barricade doors. As a last resort, if the attacker has someone cornered with no means of escape or hiding, the victim should find a weapon and fight.
“If you can get out, we want you to get out,” said Roland LaCroix, UMaine’s police chief. He directed people with questions about Run, Hide, Fight to a Homeland Security-produced video explaining the topic. The video is available on several Maine university and college campus safety websites, including umaine.edu/police/crime-prevention.
Campuses also have used the E2Campus system to notify students of non-emergency events, such as snow days and on-campus power outages.
In a more serious event, UMaine used the service in 2013, evacuating Hitchner Hall when a chemical reaction released chlorine gas in the building. Campus officials also set up an emergency operations center nearby to organize cleanup efforts.
In addition to harnessing social media and mobile devices, the University of Maine and several other campuses in the state, including Colby College, have emergency sirens or public address systems that can be triggered to spread a warning across campus.
Kate Carlisle, a spokeswoman at Colby, a Waterville-based private liberal arts school of about 1,800 students, said another key is training staff and holding workshops to ensure people know how to react in the event of an emergency such as the one at Ohio State.
“Our facilities staff and security department are prepared and trained as responders, and security conducts a rotating series of safety workshops with professional staff,” she said Tuesday in an email. “The Community Advisors, students with leadership roles in the residence halls, also undergo safety training.”
Colby subscribes to a messaging service called Connect-Ed, similar to E2Campus.
Most higher education institutions in the state also have close ties with local law enforcement agencies, many of which have officers participate in special active shooter training in the event they’re called on to respond to such an emergency on or near campus.
Dana and other Maine higher education officials expressed condolences to the OSU community in the wake of the attack.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Ohio State University,” Dana said.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.