U.S. tragedy prompts review of campus safety

Queen’s has a strong track record in dealing with treating students in distress, Simpson says

Outgoing AMS commissioners Hillary Smith, Allison Williams and and Charles Sumbler hold candles in memory of the 32 people killed at the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16.
Outgoing AMS commissioners Hillary Smith, Allison Williams and and Charles Sumbler hold candles in memory of the 32 people killed at the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16.

Queen’s has previously dealt with potentially threatening students in situations similar to that of Cho Seung-Hui, a Virginia Tech student who shot 32 people on campus before killing himself on April 16.

Vice-Principal (operations and finance) Andrew Simpson said Queen’s has a strong track record of identifying and treating students in distress. He said it’s rare, but students have been asked to leave the campus.

The emergency response system at Queen’s is under review in the wake of the recent shootings at Dawson College and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

Simpson cited communication in an emergency situation as the most prevalent issue.

“The Virginia Tech situation raised an important question of how to communicate across campus,” he said. Simpson said a campus-wide alarm is being considered, but could only work if interpreted appropriately.

“Logistically, it’s difficult in a school of 20,000 people,” he said. “If you put something like that in place, you have to be sure the sound has a single meaning.”

He also said a lockdown would be virtually impossible because of the size of the University.

“We have had, on occasion, instances where we have been alarmed by a student’s behaviour and comments made by students that have led us to believe the person is a threat.”

Although an emergency response system provides Queen’s with a greater sense of security, Simpson said, all situations must be dealt with on an individual basis.

Sergeant Jody Armstrong of the Kingston police said an emergency response system for Queen’s has always been implemented, but requires constant re-evaluation to ensure it is effective.

“It’s always been there, but these recent events highlight it,” he said. “It’s one of those things where you have to evaluate whether the University has a proper response system in place.”

The administration, together with Queen’s campus security, will be working with the Kingston police to ensure an up-to-date and effective emergency response plan is in place.

“We’re trying to maximize efficiency, working with the Kingston police to ensure there are training opportunities for police on campus,” said David Patterson, head of campus security.

Patterson said training would include familiarizing police officers with campus buildings and ensuring they have access to floor plans.

He said the whole community shares the responsibility for maintaining a safe environment.

“We need to ensure that the message is still getting to students, to ensure students know where to turn to get that information.” Violent acts are not common at Queen’s, Patterson said, but the events at Dawson College and Virginia Tech have raised issues about campus security at a national level.

“It brings awareness that no place is immune to a violent act,” he said. “People need to know there are mechanisms in place to turn to if they recognize violent behaviour.”

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