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  1. The Education Gradebook

Area, state universities have safety measures in place

Published Nov. 21, 2014

TAMPA — Should a gunman unleash mayhem on the University of South Florida campus, sirens would sound, loudspeakers would direct people away from the danger and other alerts would flash on cellphones and computers of students, faculty and staff members.

"I think we're very well prepared,'' Chris Daniel, the school's assistant police chief, said Thursday. He spoke of security measures at the sprawling north Tampa campus in the wake of three people being shot at Florida State University late Wednesday.

USF and a number of other schools honed their security protocols after a string of campus shootings in recent years, the most notorious being the massacre of 32 students at Virginia Tech by a mentally disturbed student in 2007.

Daniel said other enhancements include digital displays in busy areas, such as the Marshall Student Center, and the ability to text a message of danger to the police and have the police text back, so as to not alert a nearby shooter that police have been notified.

USF officers, he said, are better prepared: They all exceed criminal justice training requirements and a number of them are also trained in SWAT operations.

Florida State activated its alert system within 10 minutes of the 911 call, university officials said Thursday. A text message went out to students, faculty and other employees at 12:39 a.m. alerting them to a "dangerous situation" at the library. Another text message went out at 4:14 a.m. giving the all clear.

A change in response strategy after the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado in 1999 may have saved lives in subsequent mass shootings, said Capt. Jeff Holcomb of the University of Florida police. In the past, police would call in negotiators and a SWAT team. Now, the first officers on the scene go in to neutralize the threat. That appears to have been the strategy at FSU, where the gunman was killed by police after wounding three people.

UF also has a campus alert system that would be activated, Holcomb said. (The University of Central Florida in Orlando also has a similar alert system, USF's Daniel said.) Students and others would get text messages, and instructions would be broadcast over classroom public address systems and loudspeakers on buildings.

At the University of Tampa, a text system is in place to alert those on campus of any threats, said Linda Devine, vice president of operations and planning.

A campus safety committee meets several times a year to discuss safety measures. A smaller group meets more frequently to envision and plan responses to incidents like the shooting at FSU.

None of the university officials interviewed Thursday mentioned any immediate security changes in wake of the FSU shootings.

Times/Herald staff writer Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report. Contact Philip Morgan at pmorgan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3435.

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