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An ECU student peers out a Clement Hall window during a Nov. 16 campus lockdown triggered by reports of an armed individual. Officials have released a report that examines how well lockdown procedures were handled. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)


LOCKDOWN REVIEW: Work on communication, awareness

By Kathryn Kennedy
ECU News Service


Officials at East Carolina University have issued a positive assessment of the cautionary measures taken during a lockdown Nov. 16 after a student walking toward campus with an umbrella was mistaken for an armed man.

An after action report summarizing what worked well and identifying areas needing improvement was completed and approved Friday, Dec. 9.

“This is the most critical piece,” Assistant Vice Chancellor for Environmental Health and Campus Safety Bill Koch said of the analysis. “We always uncover things we didn’t know before.”

Koch said the decision to lock down the campus was the right one, and applauded the response by and communication between multiple law enforcement agencies. Parking and Transportation employees also reacted quickly to block vehicular access to campus and ECU Transit halted their routes, he said.

“I think we did really well, especially on the big things,” Koch said. “All the things that would protect life, we did.”

ECU law enforcement and other departments prepare for crisis scenarios during live shooter drills begun in 2010. Officers are trained in rapid deployment and other tactical methods during those drills, and potential shortcomings can be identified without a dangerous event ever occurring.

The after action report for the Nov. 16 lockdown also identified areas needing improvement. Among the most important, Koch said, is communication with students about the lockdown. More frequent updates and alerts will be made in the future, even when little or no new information is available.

One issue that emerged that day involved students not receiving the university's initial text message alert. The text problem was a result of human error, said Koch, when an operator missed a check box while initiating a notification. As a result, operators can now select “all” and text all subscribers.

Other means of notifying students included announcements scrolling on classroom plasma screens and projected from phones and outdoor speakers. All those methods were effective, the report found. Additionally, the university will install an antenna system to increase cell reception in some buildings.

One factor no drill could predict was the onslaught of rumors throughout the nearly three-hour lockdown on social media sites including Facebook and Twitter. There was never a gun, no suspect existed or was spotted in the Rivers Building – which was evacuated – and no hostages were taken. So much false information created unnecessary anxiety, the report states.

In the end, officers determined incorrect statements by witnesses who mistook an umbrella for a gun prompted the lock down and subsequent search. Koch said it will be important to educate students and the community about how to best report suspicious activity.

“Say what you observe,” he stressed. “Don’t make assumptions.”

News Services staff and other partners are working to improve how information is shared through the ECU website and social media outlets during an emergency.

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Download a copy of the after action summary in PDF format.

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