By Brooklyn Gundling and Abigail Smith
Colleges and high schools across the U.S. recently experienced incidents of false reports through 911 calls over the past few months. These calls vary, some claiming to be students who were shot, others a bomb threat, or in the case of TJC, a report of multiple shot and dead students on campus.
TJC was targeted by this type of hoax on April 13. At 10:52 a.m., the report of an active shooter was sent out to students, faculty and staff who were signed up for RAVE alerts, a free service that sends important information to students, staff and visitors of TJC, such as weather reports, campus closures and safety measures.
“A possible active shooter warning came into Tyler PD and Smith County 911,” the first alert to students read. “We are evacuating West Campus and the Pirtle Technology Building.”
After the initial alert, TJC Police Department and the Tyler Police Department evacuated both TJC west campus and the Pirtle Technology Building at TJC main campus and cleared those areas.
Chemical engineering student Gisele Martinez was in the Student Resource Center in Pirtle Technology Building when the alert went out.
“Immediately I was like OK, ‘Hey, roundup everyone inside,’” Martinez said. “We were talking to a professor, our immediate reaction was, you know, close the door and then find the furthest room and we just hid in a corner.”
TJC’s main campus was under a shelter in place until the Pirtle Technology Building was cleared without incident.
Vice President for Operations and Chief Operations Officer, Kim Lessner, announced the all clear to TJC faculty and staff at 11:08 a.m. via email and normal activities resumed.
“Earlier today, TJC officials were made aware of a possible active shooter at certain facilities at TJC,” Lessner said
in her email. “Upon
investigation it was
discovered to be a false report. There are reports of similar false incidents at other Texas higher education institutions today. At this time, normal operations have resumed at all TJC sites.”
According to Lessner, the call came into Smith County 911, who then contacted Tyler PD and TJC PD.
“The call never
came into our
said. “That provides
for some complications when we don’t hear the 911 call directly.”
The call specifically mentioned TJC west. However, TJC PD did not hear the 911 call before responding, and determined evacuating the Pirtle Technology Building would be best for the students, faculty and staff according to Lessner.
“It would have been limited to our TJC west location, however, when the director of the Smith County 911 district called our chief of police, he did indicate that there was
a 911 situation at the TJC technology building,” Lessner said. “Of course, the first thing that we thought of was our Pirtle Technology Building, which obviously is on the central location. So, out of an abundance of caution, we responded to both locations.”
Multiple higher education campuses across Texas and two Catholic universities in Washington received similar active shooter reports within a few hours on April 13. In each case, local or campus PD was alerted to some sort of threat that would force a lockdown, evacuation or at the very least, strong law enforcement presence, also known as “swatting.”
“It’s an odd thing to have seven or eight college campuses get this call. Within hours, probably within an hour,” Andy Erbaugh, Tyler PD public information officer, said.
Other Texas universities including Baylor University, Texas Wesleyan University, Texas
A&M University, Collin County College, Del Mar College, Lamar University, University
of Texas Dallas and Galen College of Nursing School, all received similar reports around the same time on April 13. In each case, the campus was shut down and cleared by campus and local PD.
TJC campuses and other universities who received the same reports, shortly cleared their campuses within a few hours.
“Right now, everything is secure. We expect no other calls,” Erbaugh said on the day of the false report. “But if anything else comes out, we will respond in force, just as we did before. But we have no indication. And nothing has occurred at any of these other colleges to give us any indication that anything else is going to occur. So I don’t see any reason to not go about your business today.”
This incident is not limited to Texas, as multiple states including Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Florida received calls similar to TJC’s in the weeks before. These calls are being monitored by the FBI, who say these threats are hoaxes and they have no evidence of a credible threat thus far.
“These threats put innocent people at risk and cause significant fear in the community,” the FBI said in a statement press release in late March. “We urge the public to remain vigilant and report any and all suspicious activity and/or individuals to law enforcement immediately.”
The National Association of School Resource Officers compiled a list
of all swatting incidents that have taken place in schools around the country since the start of the school year. The data was compiled through media coverage and found that 42 states and the District of Columbia all had targeted schools at one point in the 22/23 school year. While some schools are missing off of their master list, all of the schools listed were confirmed to have swatting incidents as they reported.
Other organizations, like the Educator’s School Safety Network, a nonprofit that complies and analyzes incidents of school violence, found that, at the time
of this article, there were 410 false reports categorized as an accidental or purposeful swatting incident.
Some colleges are facing criticism over their handling of swatting incidents, like Harvard University. Harvard was given a false report of an armed former student attempting
to kill a women taken hostage in the early morning of April 3. According
to a statement made by the Harvard University Police Department, the caller referenced a room that was similar enough to the Leverett House suite, where a raid was conducted by HUPD at 4:15 a.m.
The community at Harvard scrutinized the raid and actions by HUPD, as the four seniors living in the Leverett House suite were brought out at gunpoint, and according to
the campus newspaper the Harvard Crimson, not given the adequate resources to recover from that trauma. For more information on this incident and the community response, visit thecrimson.com.
While most incidents of swatting did not involve a raid or holding students at gunpoint, several students are looking into the way their college handled the situation, including at Baylor University, who received a similar call to TJC the same morning.
Baylor sophomore Biz Leonard, who tweeted her thoughts on the situation, was upset at the lack of communication by their university.
“Just had a false active shooter threat at Baylor. They didn’t even tell us or warn us about the alleged shooter until they cleared the building,” Leonard tweeted. “Do better Baylor.”
Like many colleges across the nation, TJC has a “Run, Hide, Fight” policy for students, faculty and staff in an active shooter situation according to TJC.edu. This policy means in an emergency, students, faculty and staff should either run, find a way to evacuate; hide, find a place to shelter until the situation is over; or fight, by taking action against the shooter as a last resort.
Other colleges use this policy as well in an emergency situation, and “Run, Hide, Fight” is also taught by the FBI in a training video in their “Active Shooter Safety Resources” section of their website.
While it is commonly accepted as best practice for institutions across the U.S., Ray Barron, owner of Freedom Defense Training, said this approach is not as effective as it can be. Barron gained
his experience in the military before working for the private sector, where he has worked in the protection industry educating facilities, law enforcement, businesses, churches and schools on their active shooter response.
Barron teaches a different method under the authority of the state of Texas. This method is called “Avoid, Deny, Defend” and is taught across the country.
“It was the middle word ‘hide,’ which was the biggest issue. As we’ve been learning in Columbine
and others, that hiding doesn’t necessarily keep evil from getting to you,” Barron said. “So, we teach more of a method called ‘avoid, deny, defend.’”
Avoid means to remove yourself from danger, deny means to lock down a room, secure a facility, block doors and barricade your location, and to stay away from windows and doors. Barron said the last word defend “is exactly what it means if you can’t avoid and you can’t deny, and the evil is right there in front of you. You do whatever you need to do to get home.”
Barron said TJC should be educating the staff and students with consistent training that is open to and marketed toward students, faculty and staff in order to help prepare for an active shooter.
“The one thing that we know works is consistent training, and that gets everybody on the same page, then if you’re not able to train as a university to train your students, then you could, as trained staff, a teacher, at least talk through, ‘Hey, this is the response’ at the beginning of the year. So, then your students have an awareness, but my best recommendation is held trainings that students can attend,” Barron said.
He recommends trainings held by professionals who teach proven methods that help avoid active shooters and give students the option to be educated on what they can do to try to create an efficient response time across campus.
According to Barron, the risk of false reports is future complacency.
“They kind of blow it off the next time, which is the dangerous side of it,” Barron said. “We always treat it as real because you never know if somebody’s testing a response time or if it’s a decoy for something else coming.”
TJC’s Director of Public Affairs and Social Media, Whitney Mayfield, said TJC PD is trained to act through ALERRT, or Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training, a program designed to train law enforcement on emergency procedures.
ALERRT has, in the past, used “Run, Hide, Fight,” they now promote “Avoid, Deny, Defend” as a better alternative, though several universities like TJC still follow and train using “Run, Hide, Fight.” “All TJC Police Department members have completed active shooter response training through
ALERRT and are trained to respond appropriately to a report of an active shooter,” Mayfield said in an email. “This response includes locating the incident, clearing the location, eliminating the threat, getting injured individuals medical care, and securing the scene for crime scene processing.”
To try and help the community, TJC is offering a faculty Civilian Response to Active Shooter Event, or CRASE training May 5 from noon-3 p.m. and May 9 from 1-4 p.m. Students were offered a come and go “Coping strategies for traumatic stress” sessions sponsored by TJC success coaching. The sessions took place on April 17 and 18, and were open to all students.
According to an email from Katie Moses, TJC’s Director of Professional Development, this CRASE training will be using “Avoid, Deny, Defend.” More information about CRASE or police preparedness can be found by contacting Lt. Brain Linter through TJC PD.
TJC uses RAVE alerts to send out safety warnings to students, faculty and staff. These alerts go out through email, text messages and phone calls in order to alert the TJC community when needed.
“We wanna strongly encourage all employees and all students all members of the TJC community to go into the TJC alerts system and please provide multiple options for alerting you,” Lessner said. “Because modalities differ in both character limit and the modalities also differ in terms of timing. Text goes out faster, emails take longer and the calls are sort of in between.”
To sign up for RAVE alerts, log into Apache Access and sign up for “TJC Alert Notifications.”