By Matthew Muir | Staff Writer, Video by Kennedy Dendy | Executive Producer
Baylor University Department of Public Safety (DPS) officials expressed satisfaction with the response to Thursday’s Eastgate Apartments shooting.
The shooting left one man injured and put the Baylor campus into a shelter-in-place situation for roughly 45 minutes. At a time when DPS is working to educate the community about how to respond to dangerous situations, Thursday’s shooting was a real-world test of the programs and practices put in place.
Mark Childers, associate vice president of Baylor DPS, said a warning from another law enforcement agency prompted the order to shelter-in-place.
“Our police department received information from a local law enforcement agency that there was a shooting very near campus,” Childers said. “We have our own internal processes and procedures that based upon that information and that time, the information that was received required us to make that decision to go ahead and shelter-in-place and push the messaging… [We] had Baylor police officers in the field with Waco police officers assessing the situation and we were trying to obtain the best, most accurate information real-time that we could to include in our messaging.”
While the response to any incident is going to be unique, Childers said the Baylor Alert system and cooperation with other law enforcement partners were critical to managing Thursday’s situation and would be critical in dealing with any other dangerous situations that may arise at Baylor.
“The relationship is unbelievable with our local, county, state and federal partners… it allows us to do the things that we do here on campus,” Childers said. “Every situation is unique. It’s fluid; it’s dynamic. The only thing I can guarantee that we are going to do on a consistent basis is push the messaging, and that’s very important for the community: that the messaging is put out in a timely fashion.”
As the situation unfolded, updates from the Baylor Alert system kept the community informed with multiple facets to reach as many people as quickly as possible. Alert messages were also posted to social media.
George Nunez, director of emergency management for Baylor DPS, said deciding how to communicate emergency information is about “choosing the most appropriate tool,” and that the full range of Baylor’s toolbox was utilized Thursday.
“Baylor has a great emergency communication system, and when I say system, it is not just one component, but it’s comprised of several different systems. The one that I think people are most familiar with is Baylor Alert text and email messages. Those go out to every member of the university community… everyone gets those if you have a Baylor email address,” Nunez said. “We’re able to put out that information in different means… for example, in this case the outdoor sirens were also used as well as the indoor notification system.”
Baylor released its Active Attack Training Video last month to demonstrate the Avoid, Deny, Defend procedure to follow should an attack take place on campus. Childers said community outreach programs and educational initiatives like the video appear to be helpful based on the community’s response to Thursday’s incident.
“It shows that all of the education that we’ve done prior to this… really paid off… The response is indicative of what I talked about earlier, about the constant proactive earning the trust of the community, constantly educating the community… It’s a constant forward lean, always trying to stay in front, assess and reassess,” Childers said. “I think with last week’s incident, the response the community had was fantastic. I think that’s a culmination that’s shows that that has paid off.”
Childers also said that he wanted to thank the Baylor community for its quick, appropriate response to the event.
“I’d like to thank the community for responding,” Childers said. “It’s how you respond that really defines you as a professional, and in last week’s incident the response from the community was unbelievable; everybody did what they were supposed to do.”
During Thursday’s shelter-in-place order, social media was buzzing with not just updates, but also speculation and rumors. DPS uses its own resources and information from local law enforcement agencies to provide accurate updates, which Childers said is one of the highest priorities.
“I don’t deal in rumors. I deal in fact because the community deserves that; they demand that,” Childers said. “I have to make sure we have the right information before we push that out to the community. That’s non-negotiable.”
Childers also said that while some may have been frustrated by the slow trickle of updates, rushing to release an update that contains erroneous information would be unacceptable.
“I think a lot of people maybe get frustrated because they don’t understand [why DPS can’t always provide specific information],” Childers said. “The fact of the matter is in the middle of these situations, we’re dealing with local law enforcement partners who may be responding to the problem initially, and we’re not going to put out erroneous information… There may be a delay, but that little bit of a delay benefits the entire community.”
Nunez said that despite the rumors, the community’s sharing of information was positive overall.
“While you may have heard rumors and such, it was also great to see how people would retweet Baylor Alert. People would be sharing that information with others; that’s what we encourage people to always do,” Nunez said. “When they do get an alert whether they are in a classroom to alert others around them, if they’re in an office setting, tell your colleagues, and on social media retweet the official notifications because that… gets the accurate information out instead of some of those rumors and other misinformation that might be out there.”