A report of a potential threat on campus Thursday kicked off an investigation and subsequent USTALERT that there was no threat.
“We’re dependent as a university on our students, faculty and staff reporting suspicious activity to us,” Public Safety Director Dan Meuwissen said. “If you see something, say something. Then, it’s our job to engage and investigate. That is what happened on Thursday.”
Thursday’s initial report of a potential threat on campus stemmed from one individual overhearing a potentially threatening statement by another individual and reporting it to Public Safety. That positive action kicked off an investigation that soon afterward established there was no imminent threat. So, how do we know?
“We have multiple tools through the university that allow us to validate, check and see incidents,” Meuwissen said, explaining that camera footage showed the reported exchange, as well as the person in question leaving campus. Public Safety also coordinated with St. Paul Police, and traced earlier camera images to identify the individual involved. With an assist from the Minneapolis campus Public Safety officers reviewing video and St. Paul Public Safety officers on the ground, the team “began to determine what was fact and what wasn’t, and if there was a threat. In this situation, we determined there wasn’t a weapon and no immediate threat.”
Public Safety maintains strong relationships and training practices with both Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments, Meuwissen said. When a threat or crime occurs, the departments coordinate with on-campus officers to respond to the incident.
Had there been an imminent threat, Public Safety would have immediately issued a USTALERT to notify the community. (Click here to sign up.) With Thursday’s incident, since there was no threat established, the notification system was not used initially.
The University Action Response Team – which oversees the mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery of crisis situations – was also at work on Thursday. Members of that team met and quickly became aware of rumors circulating on campus about a potential threat.
“Public Safety was receiving multiple calls. We heard students were texting about additional security measures. The rumors were fueling fear and anxiety,” Vice President for Student Affairs Karen Lange reported. “Our response team felt it was important to send out an ALL CLEAR message to stop rumors, even though there was no threat alert needed earlier. The perceived threat was of great concern.”
After receiving the ALL CLEAR alert, many recipients replied to the alert with questions, which helped guide the team’s subsequent longer communication that was sent by email only through the alert system.
Meuwissen credited the original reporter and those who took additional safety measures.
“They did exactly what we need people to do when there is a potential threat on campus,” he said. “Contact Public Safety and think about your personal safety.”
Meuwissen also cautioned, though, against the spread of secondhand information. Texting and social media can escalate a situation when snippets of information don’t accurately represent the facts of the situation.
“I was in choir when a friend texted me,” reported one student. The friend was in a different class when a professor’s email notification popped on the screen saying something about a potential threat. Students saw it and began texting friends around campus to tell professors to check their email about a threat. “There was a lot of confusion about what to do,” another student shared.
The University Action Response Team will be updating its messaging protocols for responding to rumors on campus.
“We understand that students today have grown up hearing about mass shootings far too frequently,” shared Lange. “All of us are hypersensitive to gun violence. And, how we respond to dangerous situations on a university campus is very different from the lockdown drills they have had in school since kindergarten. We need to keep educating our community on important adult safety responses.”
Campus Safety Protocol
St. Thomas uses Run, Hide, Fight protocols, based on Department of Homeland Security active shooter preparedness guides. Meuwissen highlighted that this is not a linear path of action; the first option should be to Run to safety, and if that is not possible to Hide or barricade yourself in a safe location. Fighting should be a last resort if running and hiding are not viable options. Watch this video to picture what how you might respond in various situations.
There are many resources available to help ensure personal and campus safety:
- Public Safety officers are available 24/7 at (651) 962-5100 to respond to any on-campus situation where an individual doesn’t feel safe, including as escorts around or off campus.
- Add Public Safety’s emergency number to your phone contacts: (651) 962-5555
- Detailed crisis resources manual
- Active shooter protocol
- Counseling and Psychological Services, especially the Learn to Live program for community members feeling overwhelmed or anxious about any personal safety issues