A week has passed since SUNY Oneonta faced a cyber threat of violence.
Students, faculty and staff were asked to shelter in place while the threat of an active shooter was investigated.
A logical step. The thought was good. The execution ... not so much.
On Wednesday, Oct. 2, a crisis hot line in New York City contacted SUNY Oneonta around 4:30 p.m. to share a message allegedly sent by a student at the college indicating that the caller intended to shoot people on the campus.
An initial investigation deemed the threat to be credible, according to a statement from the college, and at 5:30 p.m., SUNY Oneonta officials sent out an alert through the college’s mass communication system advising students, faculty and staff to “shelter in place.”
A subsequent investigation traced the initial threat to the phone of an unidentified female student, who was found to have reported to the Oneonta Police Department that her phone had been hacked, according to the statement.
The shelter in place alert was lifted at about 6:15 p.m.
We find no fault with any of this. The problem is that students, faculty and staff were not trained on what to do when a situation like this takes place.
Chrystal Savage, a fourth-year student from Delhi, launched a petition urging administrators to require active shooter training and install locks on every classroom door.
“Professors were vastly uneducated and under-prepared, and in some instances, even told their students to run,” Savage wrote in a Change.org petition launched the day after the threat.
“Students were denied refuge in cafes and other so-called ‘safe spaces’ on campus, and others were trapped outside after being let off city transportation on campus,” the petition read.
To signal all-clear, the emergency alarm on the top of the library sounded, she said, but it wasn’t clear that is what it meant.
“People were screaming and running — nobody knew what was happening,” Savage said. “It was almost more horrible than it was before, because we were all out in the open.”
The first sign of addressing a problem is recognizing there is one.
“I am so sorry that we suffered the threat of violence on our campus,” SUNY Oneonta President Barbara Jean Morris wrote in an Oct. 2 email to students. “Unlike other events around the country, I am thankful that what transpired here presented no real danger. However, it has shown us our vulnerabilities. Now, we will work on ways to improve. This will be important work.”
To that end, SUNY Oneonta’s Student Association will host an open dialog forum Thursday, Oct. 10, regarding the event.
The forum is intended to be a space for faculty, staff and students to discuss what happened and why it happened the way it did, Student Association President Timothy Nolan said. The discussion will allow students to ask questions and provide feedback that will “help us move on and better prepare for an event of this nature as a community.”
Since 2016, New York has required every school district to conduct a minimum of four lockdown drills per year, but colleges and universities are not held to the same standard.
We hope this will be a jumping-off point for not only SUNY Oneonta, but all of our local colleges, working with their host municipalities, to put active-shooter plans in place, and make sure that everyone on campus (and in the surrounding neighborhoods) is trained on what to do if a threat is made.
Ideally, all the preparation and training will be for naught, but we’d rather see the colleges be prepared and never have to use the plan and training, than having a similar situation happen and not have a plan in place.