After word spread about a shooting at the Bridge cinema last Friday that injured two people, students and parents alike waited for a UPennAlert message informing them of what had happened — and no text messages or e-mails ever arrived.
But Division of Public Safety officials and security experts note that it is up to each university to craft its own guidelines for when emergency communication is appropriate, and DPS deemed it unnecessary in this case.
At 6:57 p.m. last Friday, Philadelphia Police received reports of the incident, which occurred in the theater’s lobby at 4012 Walnut St. At least 12 shots were fired and a Drexel University sophomore and an off-duty Capitol Police officer were injured. The Triangle, Drexel’s student newspaper, identified the student as Jared Hurwich. The police officer’s name has not been released.
Both men are in stable condition now, but the suspect is still at large, and the investigation is ongoing.
Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush said an alert was not sent about Friday’s incident because it happened quickly and because Penn, Philadelphia and SEPTA police were able to contain the situation and the surrounding area.
Rush also pointed out that there is more than one way to notify a community.
She cited officers’ on-the-ground communication with witnesses near the scene and students’ own texts and Twitter messages as other ways the news was delivered.
The Virginia Tech shootings in 2007 highlighted the need for alerts about emergency situations but also created a myth “that these are the only solutions to communication,” Rush said. “The Virginia Tech model is to communicate with people through an electronic version, but it should never be the only way you communicate.”
The Jeanne Clery Act — which outlines the information college security forces must disclose to the public — states that a college is not required to issue an emergency alert if there is “no immediate threat to the health or safety of students and employees.”
But within the Clery Act, said Adam Thermos, a security expert from the consulting firm Strategic Technology Group, colleges have a great deal of discretion in determining what constitutes an immediate threat.
“Although we can debate the decision to activate mass notification or not, the [Clery Act] regulations stipulate that not every emergency situation requires a mass notification,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Still, during and after the incident, some community members voiced concerns about the lack of notification from the Division of Public Safety.
With the rise of such text-message alert systems, “you’re seeing a much more savvy public — they have higher expectations of getting those text messages even if it isn’t part of the law’s requirement,” said Jonathan Kassa, executive director of Security on Campus, a nonprofit campus-safety organization.
Some colleges do send out more frequent alerts to students and faculty. Kassa said the University of Texas at Austin sends out a daily “Campus Watch” that outlines any on-campus crimes.
And last December, when two women were sexually assaulted in an apartment at 44th and Spruce streets, the Division of Public Safety sent out a UPenn Alert, the only such notification since Penn implemented the system in August 2007.
However, both Kassa and Rush said schools should be concerned with what Kassa called “message fatigue.”
“If you’re going to text about absolutely everything, are students going to believe it when they really need to?” he asked.
Rush said that the negative feedback DPS has received from this incident will now be part of the decision-making process.
“We hear the feedback, we understand the concerns, and it will definitely inform us in the future,” Rush said.
Kassa agreed that schools should listen when the community voices concerns.
“When you’ve got a learning organization that’s looking to listen … that’s a positive sign,” he said.Comments powered by Disqus
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