By Chaz Ingram
Since 2013 there have been 160 school shootings in the US. In 2015 alone there have been 52 school shootings, 21 of which have taken place on college or university campuses. Thoughts of Columbine High School, Sandyhook Elementary, and Virginia Tech, without a doubt, will elicit some type of emotion from anyone who recalls the horrific actions of that day.
The senseless act of violence by a few individuals who obviously had no regard for human life, forever changed how thousands of students and school officials comport themselves on their campuses. Which leaves one to question; what is being done today to protect students, faculty, and school officials on campuses around the country?
“Quite a bit of work has been done here at COC regarding safety,” said Eric Harnish, VP of Public information at COC. “We have 24 trained staff who has received a hundred of these folks are prepared to not only respond to violence on campus, but to larger-scale issues, such as earthquakes, brush fires, and chemical spills.”
While there were several school shootings in the U.S. prior to Columbine High in 1999, it was this shooting that took place in Littleton, Colorado, that seemed to bring the issue of safety on school campuses, or lack thereof, back into the national spotlight. This horrific incident, where 15 were killed and 21 others were wounded, also forced pundits to review their policies as well as their efforts to guard against this seemingly rising epidemic.
In June of 2013 the issue hit closer to home when a lone gunman opened fire on the campus of Santa Monica College, killing five people and injuring four others. Just last month on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, a gunman killed nine people and wounded nine others on the campus located 70 miles south of Eugene.
Unfortunately, several schools don’t have a campus-wide notification system that is able to alert students simultaneously of danger. Fortunately COC has such a system in place on its campus. Harnish said that in 2013 COC implemented COC alert. “The COC alert is an Emergency Notification System that operates through our blackboard system and notifies students via email and text of any on-campus emergencies. In addition an intercom system was installed a couple of months ago that when utilized is heard throughout the campus and is broadcast through professor’s computers.”
American School Search, who issued COC a safety grading of a C+, is a comprehensive online resource designed specifically for prospective students and their parents, would disagree with Harnish‘s assessment of the schools COC‘s safety rating. “I think if you look at the work we’ve done on campus in recent years, it speaks for itself,” said Harnish.
With the recent rise in campus violence across the country, the debate about professors being able to lock doors from the inside of their classrooms has also increased. This issue has been discussed profusely in the past, but picked up steam after the deadly shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech in April 2007 where 32 people were killed. When Harnish is asked if COC is considering this option, he stands up from the desk in his office and heads to his door. He reaches for the handle and pushes a button. An audio sound is heard, then a red light flashes. Apparently, the door has locked. “Every office in this building has the ability to lock its doors from the inside,” he says, “Eventually every building on campus will be equipped with the same ability”.
“I feel safe on campus,” said Erica Gudino, a junior at COC. “I never feel threatened or in danger because there’s always a lot of people around”. I think it’s kind of tough for one person to pose a threat to a group of people.”
Rita Sebastian, a student enrolled in COC’s Adult Reentry Program, had a different take on the issue. “I don’t feel safe at all,” she said. “I have received a lot of emails lately regarding safety issues on the campus, and that concerns me.”
According to Harnish hiring armed security on campus is more complex than it seems. “There’s a lot to consider when you make that proposal,” he said. “You have to concern yourself with current employees, training, as well as collective bargaining agreements.“
The Safewise Report, the authority on safety and home security news, compiled a list of the 50 safest cities in California in May of this year. Santa Clarita ranked #38. Harnish scoffs at the notion that COC officials have been “lulled to sleep” on the issue of campus safety and are, in anyway, complacent as a result of Santa Clarita‘s high safety ranking. “I obviously don’t know their methodology for measuring such a thing, but safety has always been, and will always be a top priority for us,“ he said.