Saturday, October 17, 2015

Umpqua Community College Mass Murder (Part 4) / 'Security Improvements'

I have spent much of my professional career conducting security reviews at numerous facilities, including addressing some security issues at schools.  Admittedly, most of my experience was at manufacturing, distribution, and office complex locations.  And, I must admit that I have never visited Umpqua Community College, but I do have some suggestions for their administration based on my experiences.

Contrary to their current status, unarmed security personnel at the college is a mistake.  Although the school may feel that the concept of unarmed security protects them, in some way, from potential liability situations, it does not provide any actual ‘security.’

For consideration:  The Clackamas Community College, south of Portland, has ‘armed security.’  The Clackamas County Sheriff has had the good sense to ‘deputize’ security personnel at said community college, and allow them to participate in appropriate training.  Why doesn’t the Sheriff in Douglas County do the same?

It is my opinion all colleges (and I would include elementary through high schools), throughout the State, should be gun-free zones (no ‘open carry,’ no ‘concealed carry’) unless special authorization is given to a particular individual.  I professionally carried a gun on my person for several years and know that it can be a considerable hassle to maintain and protect.  In my opinion, ‘open carry,’ where allowed, is just an accident waiting to happen.  In addition, someone openly carrying a gun could be quickly and easily disarmed – the gun then used on its owner and others.  ‘Concealed carry’ has many of the same issues as ‘open carry.’  Those with ‘concealed carry permits’ should probably be allowed to keep guns in their cars, but not allowed to carry on campus.  Guns appearing on campus should set-off an immediate lock-down, security notified, local law enforcement summoned.

Many things can be done to improve security on campus – and there are improvements that are relatively easy and inexpensive.  Locks on classroom and office doors, plus ‘panic alarms’ are some examples - video surveillance another.  A full analysis by a qualified security consultant would be helpful.  (This is not a solicitation for business.  I am now retired.)  Schools often depend upon local law enforcement to conduct a security review.  Local law enforcement is a cheaper alternative.  Unfortunately, they are generally not qualified to do this sort of analysis, and are usually not current on potentially useful technology.

One procedure that proved beneficial in the business realm was a ‘hotline.’  This would be a dedicated number that faculty or students could call (24 hours a day), remain anonymous, and report concerns about security issues.  These reports need to be thoroughly investigated and evaluated.

In the long run, certainly not a quick fix, colleges should consider how security might be improved in their newer facilities and campus renovations.  Card access to certain areas might be one suggestion; focused ingress and egress another.

The Umpqua Community College murders, as tragic as they were, will probably never be repeated there in our lifetimes; at least I hope not.  We have to be realistic about these incidents and recognize that they are exceedingly rare, that there are no easy answers, and no guarantees.  Life is sometimes dangerous and unforgiving.  Every security measure conceivable would probably not have prevented the deaths at the college.

However, there is one aspect that haunts me.  Chris Harper Mercer didn’t crawl out from under a rock.  People knew him, socialized with him, and lived with him.  Chances are that he was receiving some form of psychiatric assistance.  Someone knew or suspected he was potentially dangerous.  That someone failed to report those suspicions.  Even more likely, if there was such a person, they would say, ‘OK, report it to whom?’  Asked that question, my answer would be, ‘I don’t know.’  Some might suggest reporting it to local law enforcement.  That person is unfamiliar with law enforcement and how it works, how it prioritizes their responsibilities.

For example, take a walk down Portland streets.  You will see countless mentally handicapped, drug-addled people hanging-out on corners, begging, or sleeping under bridges.  Are most of them dangerous?  Probably not.  Are some of them dangerous – if triggered by an inexplicable, perhaps an innocuous situation or slight?  Yes, without doubt.  What are we doing about it?  Nothing!

True Nelson
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