A Lesson from the USC Halloween Shooting

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On October 31st, 2012, four people were shot at an on-campus party at the prestigious USC campus.  Two men were waiting in line to enter a party when an argument broke out and one of the men pulled a weapon and open fired.

Schools and colleges in California have been preparing for lockdowns and campus shootings for years, but the scenario usually revolves around some criminal activity.   While there are many lessons to be learned here, the one that needs to be highlighted is the integration of technology into your emergency plans.

Technology is Great Until it Isn’t

After Virgina Tech, experts pointed to the use of technology to bolster student warning systems.  Twitter was all the rage and many thought that same technology could be fashioned into an emergency alert notification system.  One community college district in Southern California was interested in this technology and I was asked to meet with the college and the newest alert notification player.   I wasn’t a huge fan of the technology for one simple fact – it was too slow.  The number of messages that could be delivered was 30 per second.   Sure that sounds like a lot, but with 40,000 students on campus, it would take 22 minutes before the first text message reached the last student.  Second, does everyone have a phone with text capabilities? And it’s on all the time? On them?  By that time, the shooter could make circles around the campus.  So what’s all this have to do with the USC Halloween Shooting?

If you watched the news reports, several students reported that they didn’t receive emails that the University sent warning them of the impending danger.  This was similar to VT and it is likely that it won’t change anytime soon.  See technology is great until it isn’t.  You can speed up technology as much as you like, making it deliver 100,000 messages a minute but that doesn’t mean students are able to receive the message.  Some may not have their phone with them, have it turned on, or that they have a plan that accepts email.  Not to mention, school policies are directly in conflict with alert notification uses – they have to be turned off during class. So what do you do?  Go old school.

Old School is Still the Best School

Technology is truly great, but it should never become your sole source for alert notifications.   Sure, you should use text messages and emails, but realize their limitations and incorporate them into your emergency preparedness plans accordingly.  Don’t forget that people still listen to the radio, watch TV, and answer their doors.  Making announcements on various media channels is still a viable option as well as using a PA system.

To build the very system, you should try to incorporate all of the various forms of communication in your emergency operation plan.  The key is to make sure that each form of communication has a purpose and a time and place to be used.

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