Last week’s incident involving a potential weapon in the College of Arts and Sciences should have shown the Boston University Police Department that the BU Emergency Alert System is flawed, and there is a real need for a lockdown policy. Yet BUPD insists that no lockdown policy is needed because the ‘BU Alert system is the vehicle that we use as a lockdown policy.’ As we saw last Wednesday, however, the lack of clarity from the alert system is exactly why an official lockdown policy is needed.
The fact that an evacuation of CAS was even considered illustrates the severity of last Wednesday’s crisis. It’s clear that the description of the situation as ‘police activity in the area’ was a major understatement. Most faculty and students did not take the warning of ‘stay clear of the area’ seriously. In the future, this could put the safety of students at risk. With so few students following the instructions of Wednesday’s message, what reason is there to believe that students and faculty will know what to do during the next emergency? If a similar message were to be sent out tomorrow, students would once again excitedly share the message with their classmates, but it is doubtful that they would actually leave the building. Most professors are simply going to tell students to put their phones away and carry on with class unless a more urgent message is sent.
In order for the alert system to be effective, it must supplement an action-driven protocol, and the commands given must be as specific as possible. A lockdown message would keep students from wandering the hallways when it would be dangerous to do so. But without any kind of lockdown protocol, students and faculty are not going to know what to do when one is called for. This is why BU needs to formulate a specific lockdown policy, and make sure that the student and faculty population is well aware of what it entails.
Like the rest of the country, both public and private universities are feeling the financial squeeze. We’ve seen some tough proposals for cutting costs here at BU, but even more important than academics and financial aid is the safety of students on campus, especially in such an urban environment. If there is any way that the BU Alert system can be improved, then this is it, regardless of budget problems.
The status quo of the current system is not good enough. BUPD needs to recognize that text messages are no substitute for a lockdown policy and must implement one before BU faces another emergency on campus.