In March, The College of New Jersey hosted three days of what State Police instructors referred to as “active killer” training in an effort to prepare Campus Police and local law enforcement agencies for an event all hope will never occur—a mass shooting on TCNJ’s campus. It was the second such training exercise hosted by TCNJ recently and is indicative of what has become a very proactive approach to emergency preparedness at the College.
“If you wait until a crisis unfolds to begin formulating your response, it is bound to be insufficient,” said Chief of TCNJ Police John Collins. “What we have tried to do at TCNJ is be aggressive in readying ourselves to handle a wide range of potential emergency situations, and the ‘active killer’ training we conducted this spring is just one example of that effort.”
TCNJ maintains a Critical Incident Planning Group, chaired by Collins and Vice Provost Bill Behre, which meets continuously throughout the year. The group develops action plans for potential emergency occurrences, including violent crimes, natural disasters, facilities failures, rapidly spreading illness, and many other potential challenges. The Critical Incident Planning Group is staffed by personnel from Campus Police services, communications, student affairs, facilities and grounds, and several other units across campus. All group members have completed extensive virtual training provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and many have attended live regional training exercises. In addition, more than 10 group members have taken part in a national emergency management training program provided by the federal government at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service. That program brings first responders and government agency officials from across the nation together for several days and prepares them to work collaboratively and efficiently in managing large-scale, multiagency crises.
“The effort we have put into emergency preparedness has been critical, because all colleges face so many potential threats and occasions for major disruption,” Collins explained. “Our ability to manage emergency situations has grown tremendously, because we have worked through issues and identified vulnerabilities during tabletops [practice exercises]. We also have added to our tool chest as a result of what we have learned.”
To Collins’ point, TCNJ has implemented web-based emergency-management software that facilitates communication between campus officials, houses critical data and other information, and tracks communication flow and decision points. The College also possesses an emergency alert system that uses multiple delivery channels and allows for two-way communication between TCNJ and individual users, which was pivotal in determining who was on campus during Hurricane Sandy and how resources should be deployed to meet the needs of the campus community. TCNJ also has upgraded a range of security systems and is proactively testing new technology that can enhance campus safety and emergency preparedness.
“Nobody can anticipate and prepare for every potential crisis event,” Collins noted, “But we have seen the benefit of taking a proactive approach to this challenge. When things get hectic, we have the ability to focus and work through our plan, rather than getting overwhelmed or panicking. That’s when mistakes happen, and that’s what we are doing our best to avoid.”