UTPD report prescribes measures to improve emergency response

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Two UT police officers patrol on campus. UTPD and University officials are adapting emergency response practices based on lessons learned during the response to the shots fired on campus last September.

Photo Credit: Erika Rich | Daily Texan Staff

The UT Police Department is adjusting its practices after a September on-campus shooting, according to a new report.

On Sept. 28, a mathematics sophomore fired an AK-47 on 21st Street before taking his own life in the Perry Castañeda Library. The 18-page report praises actions taken by authorities that day and makes recommendations for future preparedness.

“If there is any one thing — and it’s true in any event like this — you can always improve on communication,” said UTPD chief Robert Dahlstrom. “If this happened today, I think we’d be better prepared.”

More restrictions on access to campus buildings during a lockdown, new locks on many classroom doors, a computer pop-up alert system on many University computers and a new signage initiative with directions for emergency circumstances are among steps the University plans to take, said David Cronk, UT’s director of emergency preparedness.
In addition, each campus building now has a specific building manager trained and equipped to organize in the event of a lockdown. Each manager carries a pager to alert them in case of a security threat on campus.

“If we give people as much information as we can, we reduce their anxiety and increase their security,” Cronk said.

The new recommendations focus on streamlining communication between law enforcement units in the area and within the University alert system.

Texts, emails, the campus website and social media were used as parts of the campus alert system, but an incorrect password delayed the siren announcement for the lockdown. Law enforcement agencies also had discrepancies about which radio channel to use. The report does say that all confusion was resolved quickly.

The level of anxiety that results from one of these events can cause human error, UTPD spokeswoman Rhonda Weldon said.

The report praises the rapid establishment of a unified command and the level of collaboration between multiple agencies, which included the Austin Police Department, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Austin School District Police and UTPD.

Law enforcement followed the Incident Command System, a standard approach to organize responding parties under a central authority comprised of the heads of each department and the same structure UT officials use at special events.
Police established a command post in front of Gregory Gym during the incident, Weldon said.

At least once a year, UTPD officers undergo active shooter training with other law enforcement agencies, Weldon said.
On Aug. 12, six weeks before the incident, UTPD held a training day in Russell A. Steindam Hall, which has since been demolished.

University administrators also meet at the beginning of each academic year to review scenario-based safety procedures to use in case of a security threat.

Dahlstrom said prevention is an important element in the effort to eliminate these events, citing the Counseling and Mental Health Center as a critical on-campus resource.

“When you have that major of an event with that major of a response, we want to point out things we did well on, things we need to work on and try and be better and do better for the next event,” Dahlstrom said. “I hope nothing like this ever happens here at UT again, but you train for this and you do the best you can when it does happen.”

Printed on 07/21/2011 as: UTPD to improve emergency response