Proactive security measures diffused VC shooting situation

Sept. 22, 2011 at 4:22 a.m.

Within minutes of shots being fired on the Victoria College campus Wednesday afternoon, 2,349 students and staff acknowledged having received by phone, text and email an emergency notification from the college.

"We are blasting them with information with every type of contact we have. until they confirm they've received it," said Darin Kazmir, director of marketing and communications at VC.

Within another few minutes, law enforcement had arrested Marcus Washington, 40, in a nearby backyard, and news of the shooting had swept across Victoria.

There were no injuries.

On a campus that in recent years has experienced virtually no serious crime, except burglary and aggravated assault since 2007, VC Chief of Police Matt Williams said he was pleased with how the college and local law enforcement responded to Wednesday's emergency.

"Obviously, Victoria College was extremely proactive," he said.

In 2005, the college created its police force, which now includes five full-time police officers and three security officers.

Williams said between them, the VC police crew has 40 years of school-based experience, mostly from working as school resource officers with the Victoria Police Department.

With their understanding of school policing and familiarity with local law enforcement, Williams said the VC campus can feel protected.

"We're visible and we're active and we're available," he said. The amount of calls for service is high, but "I think the crime rate itself is low because of that same reason," Williams said.

Kazmir said VC Sports Center staff reported to campus police and security that Washington was displaying suspicious behavior shortly before the shooting incident.

The sports center is only open to students, faculty, retired faculty and staff of Victoria College, as well as UHV faculty and staff. Spouses and children of faculty and staff can also use the facility.

VC is still looking into why Washington was on campus, and particularly in the sports center, since he did not meet the above criteria.

VC President Tom Butler addressed the issue of having a campus open to the public in an email he sent to students and staff Thursday.

"It is in this context of openness that we develop safety and security practices to guard against those rare events that we all know can happen - that indeed did happen - but that we hope will never happen," he wrote.

The college plans on having a debriefing Friday morning to explore what went right during the emergency incident and what the college could improve.

This was the second time the college used its alert system, which it implemented in summer 2010. The first alert was sent in February, when VC notified students the campus would be closed due to the weather.

Of 4,969 employees and students, VC has access to contact information for 4,322 in its emergency alert database. Kazmir said the college will start a campaign to encourage even more of the VC population to provide their contact information.

The alert system sends out emails, texts and phone calls repeatedly until the receiver confirms he or she has received the alert. By pressing a button or clicking a link on the alert message, 54 percent of the VC population confirmed receiving the first message alerting to a shooter on campus - an impressive response, Kazmir said the security company told him.

VC uses emergency notification software from the California company Everbridge. It's the same system Virginia Tech uses after the 2007 shooting on its campus that killed 35 people.

VC alerted the adjacent University of Houston-Victoria, which was also on lock down Wednesday.



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