Fortunately this incident proved to be a false alarm. However, the delayed warnings could have put student and staff lives in serious danger if there had been an actual gunman.
On the first day of the spring 2013 semester, at approximately 4:30 p.m., a student from Azusa Pacific University reported seeing an African American male in a black hoodie with what looked to be the outline of a gun in his pocket on Citrus College campus.
Campus safety officials told students nearby of “something” happening in the Student Services building and student parking lots S1 and S2 were then emptied and shut down. Students drove to other student parking lots, which added to the overflow of students relocating or just arriving for their first day of classes.
The first update of the situation came at 5:02 p.m. in the form of a tweet (@CitrusCollegeCS) that read, “Please keep 200 feet away from Student Services.” Several equally vague tweets followed, without any mention of a possible armed suspect on school property.
At 6:50 p.m., 10 minutes prior to the first night classes of the semester, Campus Safety posted: “Classes are NOT cancelled. Thank you for your patience.”
So 20 minutes into night classes it was posted that classes were canceled, 10 minutes after evacuations had began.
At this point it was clear that there was a problem somewhere.
However with no facts and the conflicting messages, students and staff were left frustrated and confused.
Students on their way to campus for night classes could have been spared the trip if communication between school officials and students had been more efficient.
When the campus was evacuated around 7:10 p.m., the student parking lots turned into the 405 freeway during rush hour. Caught in the exiting lines of traffic some students had to wait for up to an hour to get out of the parking lots.
With an ongoing search for a reported gunman on campus, and no proof that he is for a fact in the Student Services building, does it really seem to be the best idea to evacuate and gather the student body in mass quantities?
Citrus College has a procedure that should have been put into effect the moment the gunman was reported.
The first step in the procedure assumes that the students are aware of the situation and states to, “Stay inside or get indoors and stay in that location until Campus Safety staff informs you that it is safe to exit your location.” Regrettably students were not aware.
The following steps assume that the staff and student body are locked in a safe room. Unfortunately, this was not the case with the exception of those in the Student Services Building. Students were not directed indoors or kept from going outdoors.
The off-campus evacuation procedure further states that, “Citrus Campus Safety Officials might find it necessary to block vehicle traffic from entering the campus and direct all lanes to and from the campus to be ‘exit only’ to facilitate a quicker evacuation of the campus.”
Surely, students who were stuck in the parking lots for 45 minutes or more would say this is not at all what happened. Campus Safety did not help direct traffic.
The evacuation procedure clearly states that “in the wake of an impending or immediate danger” the campus should be immediately locked down, and the remaining students and staff moved to off-campus evacuation sites.
In hindsight, some may argue that the situation was not that serious, but the information delays in a developing situation are cause for some concern. Some were not even notified until night classes were already canceled.
The poor communication is very unsettling and could have potentially been life threatening.
The way the situation was handled that night was unorganized and it is quite obvious that the majority of people were not on the same page.
Students and staff need to be made more aware of evacuation procedures because had the situation escalated, everyone could very well have been put in serious danger.