Asa Daniels, Campus Carrier staff writer
Berry College has been fortunate to avoid major emergencies in recent history, including severe weather and an active shooter situation. However, that does not mean the college isn’t prepared for such emergencies.
Prior to COVID-19, there were active shooter presentations going on through all of the academic buildings, according to Gary Will, assistant vice president of campus safety and land management. Due to the pandemic, they did not finish going through all the buildings. However, students, staff, and faculty can set up an active shooter presentation at any time by simply contacting Gary Will at gwill@ berry.edu or the Chief of Campus Police, Jonathan Baggett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Berry is considered “Storm Ready” for a few reasons. One are the alarm towers across campus. Another is the Berry Alert system that sends messages via email and text message to students, faculty and staff. These systems are in place to facilitate clear communication between students and the college in the case of an emergency.
The alarms are tested every forth Friday of the month. A text test message of the Berry Alert system is sent at the start of every semester. Prior to this, everyone at Berry is sent an email detailing the Berry Alert test. This is to ensure that everyone who wants the information has it, Will said. Berry Alert also notifies people when the phonelines on campus are down.
The college is in constant communication with the Floyd Emergency Management office on upcoming weather patterns and potential threats, according to Will. This office specifically creates plans for emergency situations so that citizens are not vulnerable to dangerous situations and are well prepared in the event of a crisis.
The Berry Alert system is also used in the context of an active shooter situation. The alerts are pre-written, concise messages of places to avoid and to shelter in place if possible, according to Baggett. For Baggett, he believes that everyone should take advantage of the provided active shooter presentations.
“It really needs to stay at the top of everybody’s radar, because this is an important thing,” he said. “You hope it never happens, but it is a disaster.”
Will also believes that such education will be valuable on and off-campus.
“It can happen to you if you’re eating at a restaurant…[at a] shopping mall,” he said. “And that’s why it’s so important for you to be familiar with your surroundings … It’s a matter of being self-aware of the people around you and what’s happening.”
In the past, many faculty and staff members have communicated with the police department on how to make their offices and classrooms appropriate places to shelter in place. Many of the materials found in classrooms, from door stoppers to furniture, can act as effective ways to prevent a shooter from entering a room.
In the presentations, Baggett and others try to gauge student awareness of their surroundings.
“We’ll ask them ‘How do you come into the building?’ and you’ll find out, a lot of students, if they go to a certain classroom in a certain building at a time of day, they go the exact same way,” Baggett said. “They may not realize there’s an entrance there on the other end of the hallway and they need to know that, in case there’s an active shooter. They need to know how to get out of the building.”
He also suggests that students learn the general layout of a building and how to lock doors.
Once a student shelters in place, Baggett suggests that they remain quiet until officers can find them. From the time an active shooter situation begins, there will be campus officers reporting to the scene. SWAT and other assistance will be on the way, but will take time, Will said.
“The thing everybody needs to understand is, we’ll help you,” Baggett said. “Whoever’s here, is coming. They’re not waiting on a SWAT team or a bunch of other people to get here, they’re coming to start dealing with it.”
An additional safety precaution on campus has been the recent updating of the emergency phones across campus. Currently, the phones at Morgan and Deerfield are the only ones that remain to be updated.
There is no set date when regularly scheduled active shooter presentations will continue.
“With all the moving parts of COVID and what not, we do want to continue to do some, we’re just trying to make sure that we get the COVID thing squared away first,” Will said.