The Signal

Serving the College since 1885

Saturday June 15th

Gun violence, extreme weather and power outages: how safe is the College?

<p>The College is currently in the process of developing a safety training program — which is on track to be implemented later this fall or winter — after administration received requests from both students and faculty for mandatory training (Photo by Elizabeth Gladstone / Multimedia Coordinator).</p>

The College is currently in the process of developing a safety training program — which is on track to be implemented later this fall or winter — after administration received requests from both students and faculty for mandatory training (Photo by Elizabeth Gladstone / Multimedia Coordinator).

By Tristan Weisenbach
Arts & Entertainment Editor

Every educational institution depends on its campus community as a whole — students, faculty, staff and those living in the surrounding area — to work collectively to prepare and respond to threatening situations.

With U.S. school shootings reaching a record high for the second year in a row, climate change leading to bigger and more powerful storms each year and a power outage affecting the north side of the College’s campus earlier this month, administration has often needed to create more in-depth and comprehensive plans to keep ourselves and those around us safe. 

After a threat was made in February by the Michigan State University gunman towards two nearby Ewing Public Schools, the College placed academic buildings on swipe-access only during the morning of Feb. 14. The threat sparked concern across campus about the College’s preparedness with responding to an active shooter situation. 

The Signal recently spoke with five faculty and staff members at the College who all agreed they are unaware of any changes or new additions to the College’s safety protocols since that February threat.

“Have I noticed any changes? No, actually. None,” said Business Professor Martine Bertin-Peterson. “Nothing really has changed,” said Uli Speth, an adjunct music professor. Lauren Madden, an elementary and early childhood education professor, said that if there were any changes that were announced by administration via email, there were “none that were compelling enough to force me to open it.”

Last month, a science professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill was shot and killed by a graduate student while working in his classroom. The killing was a targeted attack on the professor.

Madden stated that she was concerned about the nature of the shooting at UNC, particularly the possibility that something similar could happen at any school — even here at the College.

“That wasn’t a mass shooting, so sadly in America, we tend to turn our heads the other way when it’s just one person,” she said. “Are there times I’m alone in a classroom or lab by myself? Yeah I sure am, and I know a lot of my colleagues are too.”

Karen Dubrule, the program assistant for the department of sociology and anthropology, shared a similar concern as Madden regarding the potential for targeted attacks towards faculty.

“I am on the Dean’s floor,” Dubrule said. “If someone had a grievance, it might be more likely that they might come here.”

Despite the risks of acts of violence, all of the faculty that The Signal spoke with said they feel safe on campus overall. Kellie McKinney, an adjunct professor of mathematics, said she doesn’t feel any more or less safe on campus than if she were somewhere like a concert or sports game. 

However, many faculty outlined what they feel are discrepancies within the safety plans and protocols currently in place at the College. One of the most common concerns is a lack of communication between administration and the campus community. 

For example, on Sept. 4, the north side of campus experienced a power outage at 12:15 p.m., according to Paul Romano, the senior director of sustainability and energy management. He stated there was no emergency alert sent out to the campus about the power outage, which affected Armstrong Hall, the Chemistry, Physics and Math Buildings, Bliss Hall and Bliss Hall Annex, Trenton Hall, the Art and IMM Building, the Music Building, Kendall Hall and the Gitenstein Library.

None of the faculty that The Signal spoke with were aware that the campus power outage occurred. 

In an interview with The Signal, Vice President of Operations Sharon Blanton said the reason no alert was sent out to the campus community about the outage was because PSE&G, the electricity provider, indicated to administration that power would be restored immediately. The outage ended up lasting about 30 minutes.

“By the time we would have gotten something out, we would have had to have immediately then sent another all clear message,” Blanton said.

However, when the College has experienced power outages in the past, an emergency alert has been sent out, even if it was after power had already been restored. For example, on Feb. 28, a TCNJ Emergency Alert was sent out stating: “Campus experienced a power outage this AM. Power has been restored and systems are being reset in anticipation of resuming normal operations.”

Extreme weather has also been a growing safety concern in our area. Just over two years ago, the remnants of Hurricane Ida swept through New Jersey, leading to flash flooding across campus and tornado warnings throughout much of the region on Sept. 1, 2021. Some of the faculty that The Signal spoke with recounted their experiences that night, describing the College’s administration as being “unprepared” to communicate safety concerns during the storm. 

“When there were tornadoes all around us and no warnings went out… I called the campus police and said, ‘What should I do? Should I cancel the class?’ And they just told me to watch the [College’s] website,” said Uli Speth, an adjunct music professor. “Nothing happened on the website.” 

Dubrule shared the story of Hilary Symes, a brand new adjunct professor who was teaching her very first class the night of Hurricane Ida. According to Dubrule, Symes spent her class time sheltered in the basement with her students.

“I feel like she should never have been put in that situation,” Dubrule said. “They should have made a call earlier and realized that safety was more important than starting class that night.”

Blanton acknowledged that administration “could have done a better job” addressing the weather situation during Hurricane Ida. She stated that one of the reasons why the administration’s response fell short was because it was difficult for them to know where students were on campus.

“They may have been in an academic building, some of them could have went to the student center, but we really didn’t know for sure,” Blanton said.

The College is currently working to obtain grants to purchase a new advanced weather warning system that would allow for an upgraded method of alerting the campus about dangerous weather events, according to Associate Director of Campus Police Services Chris Nitti.

Daniel Posluszny, the College’s emergency preparedness and fire safety manager, stated that since the fall of 2021, administration has also revised its inclement weather policy, which can be found on the College’s website.

Blanton described the College’s emergency operations plans as “extensive” and admitted that because of the length of the plans, “a faculty member would not necessarily avail themselves of that document and read it.” 

She said that the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) is tasked with managing and communicating specific information to faculty, staff and students on a situational basis. Madden, however, stated that she does not feel as though administration has been forthcoming and concise with sharing emergency information with the campus community. 

“I have no information about what would happen if a hurricane hit tomorrow, or if there was an active shooter or anything like that. I have no idea what the plan is,” Madden said. “That doesn't necessarily mean that there is no plan, but it has not been communicated to faculty in a way that's been clear.”

Another shortfall in the College’s safety preparedness, according to faculty The Signal spoke with, is a lack of mandatory safety training.

Dubrule acknowledged that all faculty and staff must complete Title IX and Responsible Employee training. “It seems like a basic safety training would be required of all staff too,” she said.

“When a new employee arrives, they have a background screening, and everybody has to do a mandatory training about harassment, et. cetera,” said Speth. “As far as safety goes, there’s just nothing.”

Speth suggested that mandatory safety training could involve a module or a series of videos that outline what to do during various scenarios like an active shooter, tornado or flood. He thought it would also be valuable to include things that go beyond that, such as what to do if a student were to pass out while in his class, which he said happened to him once in the past. 

Blanton said the College is currently in the process of developing a safety training program — which is on track to be implemented later this fall or winter — after administration received requests from both students and faculty for mandatory training.

Campus Police also holds customized on-location training for departments by request. These trainings include building-specific information and step-by-step instructions for the requesting department on what to do in various emergency scenarios. 

“We go to the location where we're requested beforehand, before we meet, so we actually have answers for all the questions that are posed during the training,” Nitti said.

Many faculty members shared ideas with The Signal as to what they thought administration and Campus Police could add or implement in the future to better prepare for emergency scenarios. 

Madden said she believed it would be helpful to faculty to know what a potential evacuation or exit plan is in the case of an impending severe weather threat like a snow storm or hurricane. She also believed that residential students would find it valuable to know what the emergency housing plan is.

McKinney suggested developing a way for administration to recognize where there are shortfalls in the general understanding among students and faculty of the College’s safety plans.

“It would be really neat for us to get some type of assessment to see actually, how prepared do our students feel? How prepared do our faculty feel?” she said. With that data, for example, administration could determine whether students feel well prepared in dealing with active shooters but not when it comes to extreme weather, or vice versa. Afterwards, they could develop steps to address gaps in understanding where they exist. 

Bertin-Peterson suggested potentially locking her classroom door while class is in session — something she said she hasn’t done yet this semester but may return to doing.

“It's a bit of a pain in the neck because someone who's sitting in the back of the room next to the door has to let people in when someone needs to go to the bathroom,” she said. “But I don't think having a locked classroom door is a bad idea.”

Overall, faculty largely agreed that despite the advancements that administration has made to the College’s safety plans, communicating these changes to the campus community could use some improvement in order to keep students and staff safe and knowledgeable on what to do in the event of an emergency.

“It’s better to over communicate than under communicate,” Dubrule said. “If it doesn’t pertain to us, it’s an easy delete on our email.”


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