In the wake of the shooting at Virginia Polytechnic Institute Monday, Miami University’s police and administration, along with Oxford Police, are checking Oxford’s own ability to respond to such an emergency.
Miami President David Hodge sent an e-mail to Miami students, staff and faculty Tuesday stating that Miami’s police force is highly trained and able to deal with a live shooter situation. Hodge’s e-mail also outlined specific guidelines for students in a lockdown situation.
According to Miami University Police Department (MUPD) Chief John McCandless, changes have not been made to the current lockdown policy; however, he and his fellow officers have been preparing for such a situation on Miami’s campus for quite some time.
“We’ve been training for an active shooter for a couple of years,” McCandless said. “We can tweak the police based on what worked and what didn’t (for Virginia Tech police). There is a lot of misinformation streaming to the media for the first 24 to 48 hours in a situation like that. We will learn from the more solid information that the media reports in the following four or five days.”
Though MUPD only has 29 full-time police officers, McCandless said he is not concerned about quantitative manpower in an emergency. He said the Oxford Police Department (OPD) has 25full-time officers and the Oxford Township Police has 10 full and part-time officers. McCandless said these departments would fully support Miami police if necessary.
“We have a wonderful professional relationship with the local police agencies,” McCandless said. “(This will) add up to be a substantial police contingency in the case of an emergency.”
According to both McCandless and OPD’s Chief Steve Schwein, the first force to respond to the most critical police situation; similar to the one in Blacksburg, Va.; would be Oxford’s Special Response Team (SRT) Team, comprised of seven OPD officers, one Oxford Township officers and five MUPD officers.
In addition, both chiefs said further action would be determined during the events.
The squad holds monthly training sessions to prepare for hypothetical situations that need a police presence. McCandless said the SRT Team held a mock live shooter exercise in the summer of 2006 in Reid Hall on Miami’s campus. The squad also traveled to New Mexico for further training funded by the Department of Homeland Security in December 2006, according to McCandless.
“Any time you can plan a tactical situation in advance, the results are almost always positive,” Schwein said. “The key is being properly prepared by planning and rehearsing the situation.”
Miami University Police Department Lt. Andrew Powers said he has referred students to the police Web site, which outlines procedure in the event of an emergency. It states that if the shooter is outside or in the same building, students should find a safe, lockable room and barricade themselves inside and situate themselves on the ground, away from the door.
Subjects hiding from the active shooter should not respond or move from their safe space until verifiable police arrive. Whether or not the shooter is in the room, the policy urges one person in the situation to call 911, so police may be dispatched to the area and properly deal with the situation.
McCandless also reiterated the point of calling 911. He said that though the phone may ring several times if there are a lot of calls to the station at once, the dispatch phone lines can handle it and extra officers will be standing by, if necessary, to answer emergency calls.
The Office of News and Public Information at Miami has set up a hotline to inform students of a campus-wide emergency. It was originally put in place this spring to centralize school information in regards to weather, according to Carole Johnson, the office’s internal communications spokeswoman.
According to the Office of News and Public Information, that number is (513) 529-9000.
After the snowstorms and necessary cancellations that followed, Johnson said the school thought it necessary to have an outlet for information besides e-mail and Miami’s Web site. Besides the hotline, she said Miami’s administration is constantly looking for possible improvements so the school can better handle an emergency situation.
“We constantly look at our crisis plan, almost on a daily basis,” Johnson said. “Looking at it, updating it, and continuous training are critical in continuing a solid crisis plan, year round.”
Johnson also said because technology is always changing, new ways to contact students in the event of an emergency could potentially develop.
Miami University’s branch campuses at Hamilton and Middletown do not have their own police force like the Oxford campus, but are instead protected by the city departments of Hamilton and Middletown.
According to Officer John Crawford of the Hamilton Police Department, policy has not changed since Monday for the department, nor does he think that it appears they will.
“Most police agencies across the country changed policy (regarding schools and active shooter situations) after the Columbine shooting in 1999,” Crawford said. “Rapid deployment where officers have their equipment in their vehicle along with SWAT team presence are key in any situation like that.”