The Problems with the Response to the Active Shooter False Alarm

Last Monday night at roughly 5:30pm, students throughout the University’s campus received a text alert with the words: “Active Shooter on VU campus.” It is horrifying that we live in a world where we would receive such an alert. It was even sadder to hear one of my classmates say that she had been expecting to receive an alert like that at some point or another in her life. The good news, of course, is that it was a false alarm. However, the situation revealed a lot of problems, not only with our world, but also with the way the University handled the incident. 

Problem #1: Some students did not receive the alert at all. This means that those students did not know about the possible active shooter and could have been wandering outside on campus in danger, without even knowing it. To be fair, it is the responsibility of the students to sign up for alerts, but the University has to come up with another way to reach everyone. The University tried to remedy this by sending email alerts as well. Unfortunately, the text and email alerts did not send the same message. When the texts declared the situation was under control and the campus once again deemed safe, the emails continued to say, “Shots fired update.” These emails did not contain any new information or make students feel safer in any way. Additionally, my roommates who were still on campus did not have service: they couldn’t receive the texts or emails. The University needs to find a better way to reach its students and the larger Villanova community to keep them safe. At the very least, all of its alerts and blasts must be coordinated in stressful, dangerous times like this.

Problem #2: The text alerts continued to make it seem like a threat was present when in fact there was no threat at all. Each new update began with the words ,“Shots fired update,” before saying, “no shots fired.” Why was the first line written that way? Students were unnecessarily frightened by the wording of the messages. The messages should have started with the “No shots fired” and made the point directly. When talking with students about the incident, I found this was their number one complaint. This definitely added to the anxiety of students and heightened the chaos of the situation. The University and Public Safety need to find a better, more clear way to release updates to the community. 

Problem #3: Why didn’t the President of our community release a statement? He should have addressed the situation in some capacity. He could have commended Public Safety or the Radnor Police on their efforts. He could have said something about the strength of our community or our Augustinian values, which he surely could have been tied into the incident somehow. I felt that it was irresponsible of him not to say anything. I was disappointed in the lack of discussion about the incident on this campus overall, both by our President and by professors. 

Problem #4: There was no widespread training or plan for what to do in such a situation. Even though I was not on campus to experience it myself, I spoke with friends who were here. They said that the staff did not seem to know what to do, and neither did they. This led to chaos, as people started running and pushing each other to get to a place where they could hide. Staff should be trained, as should resident assitants, so that someone knows what’s going on and can keep students as safe as possible. We need some sense of order in times like these. Additionally, resident assistants should be trained on how to deal with the fallout, so they can help residents in the way that they are meant to. 

With all of that being said, I do think that Public Safety and the Radnor Police should be commended for their quick response time and for sending out alerts at all. Even though it was a false alarm, I know that personally I would much rather be safe than sorry. Hopefully, this incident has taught some organizations at Villanova what they can do differently in the future. More than that, I hope we will never go through this again.