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The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Emergency Preparation Questioned by Admins

In the wake of recent tragedies such as the Navy Yard and Fort Hood shootings, some administrators and students working in public on-campus offices are worried for their safety in case of a similar emergency at Georgetown.

An administrator who wished to remain anonymous due to the threat of job termination expressed a desire for increased security measures on campus, including the installation of panic buttons under desks in order to alert the Georgetown University Police Department if an emergency situation arises. Prime candidates for placement include offices with large public traffic, including the admissions, financial aid and human resources offices.

“I think increasingly, every day it seems like there’s a news story about someone with a mental health issue who loses their mind and puts people in danger, if not worse,” the administrator said. “I certainly feel the admissions office should be covered, because some people who aren’t pleased with decisions could just walk right into White-Gravenor, and usually a student worker sits up at that front desk. If you were to walk into financial aid and human resources, those are other hotspots. They’re right here and central to campus.”

According to the administrator, staff members have asked GUPD for emergency buttons in the past but have been turned down. Administrators are not authorized to purchase their own call buttons, as they must be authorized by the police department. Without emergency buttons, students and staff in danger may not be able to easily or discreetly reach the phone to call GUPD in the event of an emergency.

“You don’t want your mind to go there, but news has shown that we have to, as university employees and members of this community, we have to think that way,” the administrator said. “We have to think of the worst-case scenario, and a lack of a response or an insufficient response [from GUPD] is so frustrating. … I worry about our students, who are more vulnerable and are out in front.”

According to GUPD Chief of Police Jay Gruber, GUPD has never considered installing panic buttons because they fail to provide officers with pertinent information about the situation at hand.

“When somebody hits one of those buttons, we really don’t know the situation that the officer is responding to,” Gruber said. “We don’t know if it’s a fight, if it’s a person with a gun, a person having a heart attack or a person acting suspiciously. The officers going up to this call in an expedient and emergency manner need to have the benefit of knowing what they’re getting into, so we really count on the phone call that we’re getting from people and we’re encouraging people to download the EmergenSee app. That provides us with better situational awareness.”

The EmergenSee app is available as a part of the Georgetown Mobile App. It allows students and administrators to alert GUPD in the case that an emergency occurs on campus.

“Using that app provides us with great information,” Gruber said. “It gives us your location, it provides us with video feeds and audio feeds from where you are. It really is very helpful for us in responding to these emergencies.”

Liz Sellers (MSB ’14) works at the front desk in the Office of International Programs and said she felt the need for a panic button at her desk after a potentially dangerous student entered her office early this semester. Sellers had seen a picture of the student, who had been banned from the university, and was instructed to notify authorities if she saw him. Sellers recognized the student and alerted her superior through a computer system, but could not directly alert authorities without the student overhearing.

“When I realized that it was him, it was kind of nerve-wracking. I wasn’t afraid for my safety, but it was alarming,” Sellers said. “He was sitting so close to me that if I called and said that this person is here, he could’ve done something without anyone being there to intervene.”

Sellers said that she is not aware of any specific protocol to follow in case of a major emergency, but that a panic button could help her feel safer in the office.

“I work in Car Barn, so we’re right on the street. It’s not like we’re embedded in the Georgetown campus, so it definitely would be worthwhile to have something like [a panic button] especially since we’re so close to the outer D.C. area,” Sellers said.

Gruber said that he understands concerns about a potential safety breach on campus and that GUPD is acting to improve its response to emergency situations.

“We’re always trying to improve what we’re doing,” Gruber said. “We are always updating our response policies and standard operating procedures on how to respond to crises.”

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    DizzyApr 15, 2014 at 8:30 am

    I spent a year and a half sitting at the front desk at admissions almost every day, so I understand the concern. When I was there, we had one denied applicant in particular who appeared to have a mental health issue and was generally just not operating on the same wavelength. I didn’t really fear for my safety at any point, but it did cross my mind.

    Having said that, what the Chief says makes sense – a “panic” button gives zero info, so unless you can specify and enforce it only being used in true absolute emergencies, like an active shooter situation, it could well do more harm than good.

    The EmergenSee app sounds like a good alternative. Something similar for computers would be helpful – front desk pretty much all have computers in front of them so they could have the computerized equivalent of EmergenSee available where they could input information quickly and submit it to DPS (can’t get used to calling them GUPD) without the person in question knowing it.