A Missouri Southern response to the Virginia Tech shootings

We at Missouri Southern State University are truly saddened by the tragic event that occurred at Virginia Tech University on Monday. Our thoughts and prayers go out to those families affected by the senseless killings that have brought sorrow to the hearts of everyone.

Since this atrocity, many in the media and others have expressed their concern about what would happen if “someone tried that here.” MSSU has plans in place to deal with emergency situations and systems exist to deal with the aftermath of such an occurrence. The question frequently asked is, “Are we doing anything to prevent someone from bringing a weapon onto campus.” The answer is yes.

At every entrance onto campus one will read, “The possession of all firearms and other weapons – concealed or otherwise – on these premises is strictly prohibited.” This applies to everyone, even those with “conceal and carry” permits. At orientation sessions freshmen will learn that we have “no tolerance” for weapons and that they will be suspended on the first offense for violating that rule.

Upon entering the office of the Department of Public Safety on the west end of the university you will notice a large screen displaying several “panning” cameras strategically located to capture most outside areas on campus. The cameras are not only intended to be a deterrent to crime, but the hope is that someone carrying a weapon would be spotted by the dispatcher and the DPS officers would be notified. The dispatcher could then immediately alert faculty and staff members in nearby classroom buildings (by means of a “ring-down” system that calls every extension in a building at once) to go into “lockdown” to reduce potential injuries.

Among the steps being taken, DPS officers are instructed to be vigilant regarding vehicles on campus that are not registered and individuals who don’t have proper identification. With the assistance of the closed circuit camera system, many such vehicles are identified and checked. While those in law enforcement concede that it is nearly impossible to prevent all violence, it is important to do everything in our power to make it difficult for the perpetrator.

Students and faculty/staff members are encouraged to refer those experiencing mental and emotional problems to the Student Support Center. Counselors there are dogmatic about making sure students get the help they need, even if it means mandatory confinement to insure they don’t harm themselves or others.

Just as an analysis of the police response to the Columbine shootings has changed police responses to “active shooters” on a campus, there is no doubt that in the years to come many Public Safety departments at universities and colleges will change policies and specific responses to help prevent another Virginia Tech incident. Policies are fluid and should change regularly to adapt to a changing society. In fact, this week members of campus administration participated in a conference call with the Governor’s office and other public university officials to review the plans and procedures that are in place at our institutions and to learn about the Governor’s plan to develop a state-wide Campus Safety Task Force.

At MSSU we are indeed fortunate to have one of the lowest crime rates in the country. A link on the MSSU DPS web site or by simply going to http://www.securityoncampus.org/crimestats/index.html will allow one to compare Southern’s stats to any other university. We also enjoy a great working relationship with the Joplin Police Department (primary response agency for a criminal event) and have had a cooperative agreement with them for several years.

Finally, the safety and security of our campus is really everyone’s responsibility at some level. Whether it’s obeying the University’s restriction on having weapons on campus, being vigilant in reporting breaches of security, locking doors to buildings and offices when we leave them for the day, or encouraging individuals who may be undergoing stressful periods or experiencing obvious signs of emotional disturbance to seek professional intervention, we can all contribute. Please let me know of any suggestion you might have to improve our capacity for preventing or responding to emergency situations on campus as we strive to make our campus as safe and secure as possible.