Campus experts explain how mix-up happened

April 17, 2015 Latest Print Print
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At around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, the school’s notification system was activated indicating a possible tornado near OCCC.

Many people headed toward safer areas in the college.

However, some hid quietly in classrooms after the wrong notification was sent to some areas of the college, indicating a gunman on campus.

Such alarms originate at the campus police department.

A police report of the incident shows “technical difficulties were encountered with the notification message” but does not provide details.

In an April 9 email, campus Police Chief James Fitzpatrick said an “improper message for the particular threat posed that day” was mistakenly activated.

“The transmission of the shelter-in-place alert was determined to be a human error,” he said. “There was a confluence of issues with the phones and message menu which confused the initiator of the alert message that unfortunately caused the Shelter in Place alert.”

Fitzpatrick chose not to name the person responsible for sending out the incorrect alert. Instead, he said, as police chief, he takes full responsibility.

He said the mistake was quickly realized and campus police acted immediately to convey verbal instructions via the public announcement system. Officers also went around campus with bullhorns to ensure those who could not hear the PA would head to the college’s safer areas, he said.

At 7:21 p.m., an all-clear was given, according to the police report.

Information Technology Vice President David Anderson explained how the error might have taken place.

“It’s a menu,” he said. “From the menu you select and then, you have to enter a code to activate the system.

“But there’s all kinds of different options because we have different buildings. There’s lots of options to choose from. I think that’s where some of the confusion might have been.

“Really, once you start it, it’s difficult to stop.”

Anderson said the current system was implemented in response to another breakdown in emergency communications.

On Feb. 26, 2010, after a report of a gunman in the college library, Safety and Security Director Ike Sloas mistakenly activated a fire alarm instead of a shelter-in-place alarm for the Main Building, causing many on campus to evacuate. Sloas resigned soon after and a campus police department  replaced the Safety and Security department.

Anderson explained how that mix-up occured and what has changed since.

“There used to be a four-digit code and a pin number,” he said. “In order for somebody not to dial a wrong number, we moved to a system that was more menu-based … .”

Up to now, he said, he’d had good results from the change.

Since the most recent incident, Fitzpatrick and Anderson have worked together to …  ensure such a miscommunication will not take place again.

Anderson, responsible for setting up and maintaining the college’s communication systems, said he is confident the issue has been resolved.

“We did some renaming to help the system so that shouldn’t happen again.

“Human error happens. The system does what it’s told. It’s unfortunate but I think everything is resolved so it won’t happen again.”

Anderson, who has worked to integrate the campus emergency notification system since its inception, said it’s a system that’s continually evolving and improving. He said he’s confident in its capability to communicate widely and effectively.

Anderson said, during an internal alert, notifications are sent to all campus phones, PCs and speakers.

“ … It will go to almost 2,000 devices at one time.”

He said he wants OCCC students to know he’s doing everything possible to be sure they are notified of campus emergencies quickly and effectively.

“We can’t notify you if we don’t know how to contact you,” Anderson added, recommending that students enroll for text message notifications at www.occc.edu.

To contact campus police, call 405 682-7872 or dial ext. 7747 from any campus phone  for emergencies.

To contact Jorge Krzyzaniak, email seniorwriter@occc.edu

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