In light of last month’s manhunt in Boston, which included a shooting on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus, University emergency management officials have sought to increase awareness within the University community of responses to such “active threat” situations.
While the University has never had to deal with an active threat situation, Chief of Police Laura Wilson ’91 noted that the Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) has previously issued “stay away” warnings for specific areas.
In October 2012, students were warned to avoid the area surrounding the Stanford Golf Course because of a gas leak. A warning was also issued when shots were fired in the Lagunita parking lot after Blackfest in 2011.
Wilson said the police presence on campus increases when such warnings are issued, as well as on days when more students are present on campus.
“We generally try to match our staffing to the population as well as activities and events on campus,” Wilson said, noting that the number of SUDPS officers on campus can range from two to more than thirteen.
In an active threat situation, however, campus police presence could increase to hundreds of officers from surrounding agencies.
According to Wilson, SUDPS’ main role is to ensure the safety of the community by mitigating threats and teaching community members to promote campus safety through reporting suspicious behavior, taking safety precautions and having a personal preparedness plan.
Wilson suggested that students should create a communication plan for active threat situations and attempt to minimize the number of calls they make during an emergency, since excessive cellular communication might hinder emergency responders.
“One of my big concerns is that in a major crisis like an active shooter, people are going to start tweeting and sending photos and calling people,” Wilson said. “We could easily overwhelm our cellphone towers.”
According to Associate Vice Provost for Emergency Health and Safety Larry Gibbs, University officials constantly re-evaluate their preparedness for any kind of emergency.
The current policy for dealing with an active threat, such as an on-campus shooter, has three components: taking direction from law enforcement, maintaining outreach to keep the community notified and personal preparedness.
Gibbs emphasized the importance of students informing themselves about proper protocol for emergency situations by reading the guidelines and procedures listed in the Stanford University Emergency Guide. He also recommended that students keep their contact information in Axess updated so they can receive AlertSU messages.
“With the very large population that we have here, it’s very important that individuals also become prepared and knowledgeable,” Gibbs said. “Information is very valuable, and periodically reviewing it to know what to do in those types of situations is one of the best things individuals can do to protect themselves.”
According to Gibbs, the first step in managing an emergency situation—taking direction from law enforcement—is crucial in keeping students safe in the midst of an active threat, as emergency situations are “very fluid in nature” and “can take many different pathways.”
Gibbs said that in the case of an active threat situation, students, faculty and staff would be asked to “shelter in place”—stay where they are and take action to protect themselves until more information is available.
A shelter in place order was recently implemented throughout the entire city of Boston, including Boston-area schools such as MIT and Harvard, following the shooting at MIT.
“One of the things we did learn [from the MIT shooting] was that because of the sheer magnitude of what occurred in the area that students did stay in the residences,” Gibbs said. “They did stay in until [the school] got clearance of what was going on from law enforcement.”
Though Wilson said that property crimes like bicycle and laptop theft are more common at Stanford than crimes like sexual assault, robbery and homicide, she recommended that students stay attentive to potential dangers.
“I do consider it a safe place for people to be around, but, with that said, I do think that people do need to take appropriate steps to ensure their own safety,” Wilson said. “This is an open campus—we allow the general public to come onto campus—so in order to make the community safe, everyone needs to play a role.”