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11 October 2007
University Police Trains
JSU Faculty, Staff for Emergencies

By Jennifer Bacchus
News Staff Writer

Reprinted here in its entirety.

UPD officers move through Forney Hall, searching for a shooter, during this summer’s active shooter training. Photo Special to the News

For the last few years, Jacksonville State University has been preparing for the worst – from storms to power outages, everything from natural disasters to an incident at the chemical weapons incinerator. With the two shooting incidents earlier this year at Virginia Tech and Delaware State, their preparations now include the possibility of an active shooter.

“We’ve been doing training for the last three years as part of a preparedness measure that had to do with weather as well as any possible chemical incident that could occur at the Anniston Army Depot,” said JSU President Dr. William Meehan. “We realize that what happened at Virginia Tech could occur at JSU or any other college campus at any time.”

At Meehan’s request, the JSU University Police Department held two training sessions last week to inform faculty and staff of the new Emergency Operations Plan, still in its draft form, for the university.

The training is currently voluntary and Meehan hesitates to make it mandatory for his staff and faculty, hoping they will realize the importance of knowing what to do in an emergency and voluntarily attend.

Melonie Carmichael, the new emergency management specialist for UPD, is behind the new emergency plan and led the training on Sept. 26 and 27.

“Since I’ve been here, the first thing I did was a survey,” said Carmichael, detailing how she asked the executive team as well as building managers, faculty and staff what their emergency plan was. She found a disparity between those who said there was a plan and those who didn’t. “That’s just a lack of communication right there. We’ve got to close that gap and make sure everybody knows what’s going on.”

She led the faculty and staff present through a list of potential threats at JSU, ranking them by their likelihood of occurrence.

Everything from a storm knocking out power and the danger that could pose to delicate experiments or computer programs to the potential for a hazardous material spill on either Highway 204 or 21 was discussed.

“The winter storm of ’93 we all remember. It knocked out a lot of power for a couple of weeks,” said Carmichael. “That is something every department has got to prepare for, if you lose power for more than a couple of days or more than a couple of hours, you have to think about that.”

Carmichael is working to make JSU “Storm Ready,” following guidelines established by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association. There are only 18 schools nationwide with the distinction, none in Alabama.

“With all of your help we can get Jax State on there – be the first ‘Storm Ready’ school [in Alabama],” said Carmichael.

Lightning, tornados and flooding are all problems associated with severe thunderstorms and each can be fatal to those caught out in the storm.

“If you hear thunder, you shouldn’t be outside,” said Terry Schneider, of the University Police Department. “Lightning can strike up to 10 miles in front of a storm.”

Schneider gave the group present his own rule of thumb on how to stay safe while driving on flooded streets – if you can’t see the curb, turn around.

“Flooding kills more people than any other weather phenomena in the United States,” said Schneider.

Most people who attend or work at JSU will see few, if any, winter storms during their time at the university, but the school makes sure it is prepared anyway.

No matter the situation, if there is a threat of inclement weather, local television and radio stations will have closing or postponement information to pass on to their audiences. The information should also be available on the JSU website,

After the Virginia Tech shootings, JSU created its own task force to determine a course of action should a similar incident occur there.

Part of the decision-making process has been in revisiting the Columbine High School shootings of 1999. At that time, standard procedure was for law enforcement to secure the perimeter and wait for SWAT. Now, the procedure is for the first responders to go in and keep moving as long as the shooter is firing.

“Every time that gun goes off, somebody dies. So we’re going to move real quick when the gun goes off,” said Schneider.

JSU is also working on identifying potential problems early. An intervention committee has been established to take complaints made by students and faculty and gather information on the student or faculty member in question.

“We want to get a hold of potential problems early and in this case it’s individuals. We want to identify them early, we want to get inside their operational cycle, inside their mind, and find out what their potential is. What is their potential lethality?” said Schneider.

They find out if the person has a gun, if they have a criminal record and they talk to them to determine any potential psychological problems.

If anyone becomes concerned about the behavior of a student or faculty member they should notify their dean or head of department immediately. It is up to the dean or department head to relay the problem to the intervention committee.

Currently, the system for letting students, staff and faculty know about an incident, whether it be weather-related or an active shooter is still fairly basic. A phone tree is in place and the school can also notify everyone via television, radio and e-mail. The new electronic signs at Theron Montgomery Building and Pete Mathews Coliseum can be used for the announcements as well as signs put on each building on campus, but those methods do little for those inside a classroom far away from telephones and e-mail.

For that reason, the school is also looking into software to help them send text messages to teacher cell phones, allowing them a discrete way of receiving information while in class.

“Right now, the way we notify the campus, emergency notification, is we have the mass telephonic notification,” said Schneider. “The second way we do it is you go on JSU’s newswire and we have a call down tree at the University Police Department, making notifications that way. That is what we have in place right now.”

About Jennifer Bachus

Jennifer Bacchus is a staff writer at The Jacksonville News. She can be reached at 256-435-5021 or via e-mail at

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