Friday, September 18, 2015

Feeling Safe on Campus

Published in VC's Notes on September 18, 2015

Feeling Safe on Campus

The recent tragedy at Delta State University has been heavy on my mind this week.

If you haven't been following these events, a history professor was reportedly shot in his campus office by a colleague who had earlier killed the woman with whom he had been living. The alleged killer then committed suicide when he encountered police. 

No clear motive has emerged to explain the violent deaths of these three people. But even so, could any explanation ever sufficiently answer the question, "why?"

That question was on the mind of my 20-year-old daughter, who's a student on a different college campus. She was sad and distraught about the Delta State tragedy and the recent, untimely passing of two young women who were acquaintances.

"Has it always been this way or just since I went to college?" she asked.

These unhappy events are not new, of course. Shootings on college campuses - whether they involve only one or two people or mass casualties like the horrific incident at Virginia Tech in 2007 - have been around as long as there have been college campuses.

What feels new is the near instantaneous sharing of news - both good and bad - through the Internet and social media. They make the world seem like a very small place.

But even allowing for the frenzied media context, it does seem that more and more people feel the answer to any perceived grievance, dispute or disappointment involves a gun. 

That mentality has an impact on us, of course, because UMMC is the primary receiving hospital for people wounded in the metro area as well as those transferred here from other hospitals. It also involves us because, at some level, the epidemic of gun violence must be viewed as a public health problem that we are called to address.

But that's not my purpose today. My purpose is to reassure you that in the event we have an "active shooter" on our campus, we are prepared to respond.

First and foremost, we have a professional police force thoroughly trained to handle such incidents, and with ready access to the Jackson Police Department, the Mississippi Highway Patrol and other resources.

We also have an active shooter protocol in place, including a communication platform that can deploy messages rapidly to warn our campus community of impending danger.  In the next few weeks we will deploy a new color-coded system of emergency messaging that includes Code Black to signal events such as an active shooter, a bomb threat, a hostage situation or other imminent dangers.

In the presence of such threats, remember that you have options. These can be summarized as "run, hide, fight." 

The first and best option is to flee the area where an attacker is present. If you cannot escape, the second-best option is to take shelter and conceal yourself, placing barriers between you and the attacker, if possible. If these defensive measures aren't available to you, the third option is to take the offensive and fight the attacker with any makeshift weapon at hand.

Remember: Run. Hide. Fight.

We should also be mindful that these types of tragedies are often tied to mental health problems. In so many of these cases, there were warning signs that may have been noticed but not fully acted upon by people who knew the eventual perpetrator. This is magnified in Mississippi - and indeed in most states - that struggle with providing adequate access to mental health services.

In the midst of all this sadness, let's also remember to take care of the caregivers. Watch out for each other. Take care of each other. Realize we are not immune to the pressure and stress of life, and many in the health professions carry more than their share.

In fact, a national workforce survey in 2014 indicated that 69 percent of health-care workers reported feeling stressed, and 17 percent felt highly stressed - the highest levels of any industry surveyed. 

So my two takeaway messages for you are these:  Rest assured that we are constantly focused on campus security and are ready to deal with any threat.  And remember to take care of yourself and your team members so that you, in turn, can take care of those we serve, on our journey to A Healthier, and Safer, Mississippi.



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