Two years later, students and staff are still shaken from the terrifying incident. Public Safety pledges that the right changes have been made to help Saint Mary’s feel more prepared.
By Ryan Ford
Visiting News Reporter
Students received a notification from the LiveSafe app that there was an active shooter on campus. It was November 21st, 2019, and a typical school day in the Fall semester quickly evolved into a campus-wide panic
Christian Ferraria ‘21 remembers the day vividly, “People in my class ran to the teacher and told them that there was a shooter threat. We were then hiding under a desk away from the window. Everybody was scared and worried.”
A member of Saint Mary’s faculty, who wishes to remain anonymous, shared their experience as someone who was teaching during the episode. “I recall that I had no idea anything was happening until the students all started looking at their phones. They informed me there was an active shooter on campus.” Students looked to their teachers for guidance during this frightening time, but the teachers had not been trained on how to handle such situations. “I knew that it was important that I remained calm and appeared to know what I was doing. In actuality, I never received any training on what to do.”
This notification that students received was later described by James A. Donahue (President Saint Mary’s at that time), as “a lag between the report to law enforcement and the LiveSafe notification.” This was in a statement students received the day after the event, in which Donahue confirmed that the alert was a false alarm.
Not only did this false alarm create uncertainty for students who thought they may be in a life-or-death situation, but the school and Public Safety added fire to the flames in their slow response to the incident. Ferraria went on to say that after 15 minutes of sheltering in the classroom with his peers, they all went back to their rooms and waited, “I kept checking my email and did not receive any update from the school regarding the situation. This was very disappointing.”
An email was sent to students at 10:54 PM that night, in which Jane Camarillo (Vice Provost for Student Life) followed up on the incident by stating that despite confusion and conflicting reports, “there was no active shooter on campus today.” She went on to say that the person suspected of being the active shooter was not “a student or employee at Saint Mary’s.”
Lack of communication from Public Safety earned criticism. Hampton Cantrell is the new Executive Director of Public Safety and Transportation at Saint Mary’s and gave his perspective on the incident. “In my experience, I have handled several unfolding emergency situations and recognize how challenging it can be for authorities to face a dynamic, evolving situation while gathering accurate information for an alert to the community.”
Cantrell went on to say that this incident made it clear that a new system of communication for events like these is necessary. As a result, Saint Mary’s has established SMART, which stands for “Saint Mary’s Action and Response Team.”
This team is led by Cantrell as head of Public Safety, and includes the Vice President of Student Life, the Vice President of Facilities Management, the Vice President of Information Technology Services and Chief Information Officer, the Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs, and the Director of Media Relations, all of whom work together in an effort to “identify the best way of delivering training and messaging on a variety of different emergency preparedness areas.”
When asked about Public Safety’s response to the incident back in 2019, Ferraria answered, “I think the school did not do a good enough job in preparing for these incidents.” Like many students and faculty, Ferraria felt that the situation did not leave him feeling confident that the school would be prepared if another incident were to occur. An anonymous member of faculty echoed this sentiment, “In retrospect, many of us were disappointed that there hadn’t been some forethought about training for this kind of an event.”
Now, Cantrell believes that the right infrastructure is set in place to help Saint Mary’s as a community be better equipped to handle future incidents. He went on to add that he is currently in the final steps of hiring an emergency preparedness consultant who will “help update and redesign the campus’ emergency messaging and training.” In addition, Cantrell says that redesigned training, “including training on active shooter [alerts],” will be rolled out during the spring semester.
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Ryan Ford '23,