A former Plattsburgh State student’s racist January Snapchat post, the February school shooting in Parkland, Florida, and recent hateful propaganda distributed in the city of Plattsburgh have raised questions from some students about safety and emergency preparedness on campus.
PSUC student Amaris Diaz works a late shift in the Learning Center, and “with everything going on,” she feels especially nervous during her walks home.
“I’m like, how fast can I run to that (emergency) light? It’s sad.”
Diaz said she even took her name off her door.
“I don’t want people knowing where I live or even if there’s anyone in the room.”
Freshman Hunter Leduc said, “I feel like some of my friends’ safety might be in danger, but in general, my safety is not.”
Last month, flyers inviting people to a propaganda-spewing white-supremacist website were found left on the doorsteps of some Plattsburgh residents. Plattsburgh University Police Chief Jerry Lottie said the flyers were not distributed directly on campus.
Early this month, a group called Patriot Front hung white-supremacist posters around the city of Plattsburgh, including one in front of Stafford Middle School on Broad Street. Some posters touted the message: “Reclaim your birthright.”
According to Lottie, the number of calls to University Police has not increased in the past few weeks.
“I get where (students) are coming from,” Lottie said. “I don’t want to minimize anyone’s concern for safety because we should all be vigilant, but some of it is perception.”
University Police’s undercover patrols this semester will continue.
“Hopefully a conspicuous police presence helps to mitigate some of that,” he said.
In the fallout of the Parkland shooting that left 17 high school students dead, the Young Democratic Socialists of America Plattsburgh chapter has scheduled a gun-control march for tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. The event will begin in front of the Angell College Center and is part of the March for Our Lives movement set to take place around the country that day. Members of the campus community and area residents will march from the ACC to Trinity Park in downtown Plattsburgh to join local high school students and others in protest.
In the event of an active-shooter situation or other emergency at PSUC, University Police or the Office of Emergency Management can notify the campus through the SUNY NY-Alert system, the three sirens on campus, electronic message display boards in some buildings and campus-wide emails.
“If we have to evacuate a building, we’re going to use those forms of communication,” Lottie said.
SUNY campuses use the SUNY NY-Alert system to send out safety and protective-action messages to campus communities. This includes — but is not limited to — alerts of bomb threats, civil disturbances, personal safety, hostage situations and fires.
All students, faculty and staff are automatically enrolled in SUNY NY-Alert through their email. Additional information such as phone numbers for text and call alerts can be entered through the MyPlattsburgh portal. Anyone who doesn’t add information will receive only email alerts.
However anyone can opt out of SUNY NY-Alert, and Emergency Management Director Michael Caraballo said he doesn’t have statistics on how many campus community members have added additional information or what information was added.
“That’s part of the limitations with NY-Alert; you have a limited amount of reports you can get,” Caraballo said.
He said nearly 7,600 records exist in the SUNY NY-Alert system for the PSUC campus. Each individual phone number or email address counts as one record, so one person can have multiple records filed.
“We want people to feel like we’re not going to be the big brother,” Caraballo said on the ability to opt out of the program. Student information added into the SUNY NY-Alert system is not given out and only used for emergencies.
Caraballo said he sends out an email reminding everyone about adding information at the beginning of semesters and during campus-wide tests, but there are no incentives to enter additional information.
“There’s room for improvement,” he said.
University Police can also send out campus-wide emails separate from those through SUNY NY-Alert.
The campus sirens, located outside Hudson Hall, DeFredenburgh Hall and the field house, can be activated at University Police dispatch. They send out an SOS tone, which Lottie said means “stop, observe and seek information.”
The most effective form of alerting the campus may be the sirens, which were strategically placed in the most useful locations around campus by an outside safety solutions company.
Both Lottie and Caraballo noted that active-shooter situations often unfold quickly.
It takes time for law enforcement to respond. And depending on when such a situation occurs, Caraballo said University Police dispatch may not be able to immediately send out a notification.
“(Dispatch) can send out notifications,” he said, “but they’re also taking care of their officers and controlling them, so they’ve got to try to call someone to come in and do a notification. All this takes time.”
He added that he doesn’t want to give anyone false impressions.
“If there’s a shooting, you’re not going to get a message right away.”
Some newer educational buildings with card access can be remotely locked by University Police dispatch, but in an active-shooter situation, it is unlikely they would be.
“If you lock those doors, people can’t get in to seek shelter,” Caraballo said. “It sounds good, but other times it doesn’t, so we want to keep them open.”
As for active-shooter response training, University Police officers travel to the Homeland Security training facility in Oriskany, New York.
Lottie said the facility has an indoor cityscape, and officers participate in live active-shooter scenarios with simunition, or soap pellets. He said the training covers the tactical requirements of responding, such as how to enter and clear rooms.
“The simulation is full-on,” he said.
After the initial active-shooter training in Oriskany, officers are “cycled back through,” Lottie said. But “there’s no requirement” for when they need to be retrained. Two officers were scheduled to attend this training again over spring break.
Each patrol car is equipped with an AR-15 assault rifle. Officers are required to qualify twice annually with both rifles and handguns. Lottie said they “try to incorporate some of those (active-shooter response) movements” during qualifications.
The University Police department offers in-person training to any interested groups on campus — faculty, students or staff. This training stresses the “run, hide, fight” concept.
People’s first response to an active shooter should be to run. If that is not an option, Lottie said to secure the area, turn the lights off and get out of sight. The last option is to fight as a group.
“Active shooters are looking to rack up numbers,” Lottie said. “So normally, unless you’re the target, they’re not going to waste time trying to get into a secured area.”
Caraballo said he thinks in-person training is most effective because attendees can ask questions, but he said University Police or Office of Emergency Management can’t mandate anybody to go to it.
Vice President for Administration and Finance Josee Larochelle this semester required that branches of staff under PSUC’s Business Affairs division attend the University Police’s in-person training. This includes human resources, maintenance, student accounts, financial aid and the mail office.
Caraballo said he hopes this will spur other divisions, such as the faculty, to follow suit.
“Students are in the classroom a good portion of time with these faculty,“ he said, noting that in an emergency, students will look to the professor.
“It would be good for those faculty to be trained so they direct appropriately.”
“I wish there was some way of encouraging that,” he added.
Caraballo sends out a memo every year to the faculty about classroom emergency procedures.
Both Lottie and Caraballo said that some faculty have attended these in-person trainings.
“They’re not as easy to capture, quite honestly,” Lottie said.
The PSUC website states that all faculty and staff are required to complete “WeComply” online training, which covers a range of topics. Active-shooter response is one module of this training. If campus employees do not complete it, their supervisors will continually receive memos, Lottie said.
Caraballo said, “I don’t know if there are any repercussions if you don’t take it. My feeling is that there isn’t.”
PSUC is working on the installation of a system that will send emergency notifications as a pop-up message to campus computers. University Police and the Office of Emergency Management are also looking to hook up with the message boards in buildings other than the ACC and dining halls. Caraballo said Sibley Hall and some newly renovated buildings have these boards installed, but they cannot yet send information to them.
“It’s just a matter of getting the funding,” he said.
Email Kody Mashtare at firstname.lastname@example.org