Davis Enterprise, The (CA)

Universities fine-tune their emergency response plans
UCD police chief examines training


   Matthew B. Stannard
and Tanya Schevitz
San Francisco Chronicle

and Sharon Stello
Enterprise staff writer


Published: April 17, 2007

Monday's massacre at Virginia Tech was a wake-up call for campus security forces across the nation — but hardly their first, several college and university officials said.

The Columbine High School shootings of 1999 were a wake-up call, too. So were Bay Area atrocities, such as a hostage crisis at a bar one block from UC Berkeley in 1990 and the 2001 arrest of a De Anza Community College student found with an arsenal of bombs and guns and a detailed plan for an attack on the campus.

Those incidents, and others like them, led to changes such as the creation of a district police force at Foothill-De Anza Community College District, a tactical response team at UC Berkeley and new response plans across the region for dealing with shooters on a rampage.

"We're a far sight better than we were in 1999," Ron Levine, chief of Foothill-De Anza Community College District Police, said Monday.

"The awareness level has come up considerably," he said. "A lot of emphasis was placed on K through 12, and I think a lot of work remains to be done in two- and four-year institutions."

UC Davis Police Chief Annette Spicuzza said the department is reviewing its response plans following Monday's shooting rampage at Virginia Tech.

"It makes you stop and look to make sure we have what we need in place," Spicuzza said.

She said if UCD were faced with a shooter on campus, police would handle it as a regular crime scene and respond to information available.

While UCD has never experienced such a shooting attack, there have been a couple of gun-related incidents on campus in the past few years.

In December 2004, an Antioch man was killed in the first officer-involved shooting in UCD history. Veteran officers tried talking to Martin Louie Castro Soriano, who was acting suspiciously outside the student housing office.

Soriano brandished a gun and fired a shot at officers, but missed. After unsuccessful attempts to subdue Soriano with a Taser, at least one officer then returned fire, killing Soriano with a gunshot wound to the chest.

Soriano was not a student, but had gone to campus in search of a former girlfriend.

Yolo County coroner's officials determined that Soriano, 26, was under the influence of both marijuana and methamphetamine at the time of his death. UCD officials also revealed that Soriano had an extensive criminal background involving "weapons and violence."

In a separate incident, in January of this year, UCD police surrounded a campus building and locked down the third floor of another after reports of a person carrying an assault rifle on school grounds. It turned out to be a rubber replica rifle carried by a UCD student involved in the Navy ROTC program at UC Berkeley. The student was scheduled to return the gun to the Berkeley campus that afternoon, but brought it to UCD because he had nowhere to store it until then.

Spicuzza said the department reviewed its response to these situations, looking for ways to improve if necessary.

"You want to look at these things. What did you do right, what did you do wrong," Spicuzza said.

While there could have been better communiation during these two incidents, she believes officers responded correctly.

Spicuzza said half of the UCD Police Department's officers are trained in active shooter rapid response. The other half will be trained by summer.

There remains debate about the proper role of law enforcement on campuses, said Levine of Foothill-De Anza and other campus law enforcement officers.

"The whole idea of the college is for the education of the student," Levine said. "It's not meant to be an oppressive police state. But an active law enforcement presence on campus is a reality today when it may not have been in the past."

An armed campus police force is a necessary response to the new reality, Levine said, although some campuses — such as City College of San Francisco — have declined to go the route of an armed force.

"It reflects a basic commitment and understanding that we are very anti-violence, anti-gun and anti-war," said City College Chancellor Philip Day Jr. "There is a preferred mode of dealing with students and faculty, and those methods do not include arming our police."

City College Police Chief Carl Koehler said the policy leaves his officers at a disadvantage.

"When something happens, minutes are very important, and we do rely on the San Francisco Police Department," Koehler said. "They are awesome, but they have their issues of staffing."

The Virginia Tech probably will bring up the question again, along with other elements of crisis planning.

University of California President Robert Dynes said the UC campuses will all review their safety programs, and state Sen. Jack Scott, D-Pasadena, chairman of the state Senate Education Committee, called for hearings on college security plans and training.

Such reviews are a common response to crises, said Chris McGoey, a security consultant with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles. But in the final analysis, he said, there is not much that officials on an open campus can do to guarantee that determined killers are kept away.

One estimate by the School Violence Resource Center, an organization funded by the U.S. Justice Department, suggests that the odds of a student being slain on campus are 1 in 1.7 million — making that a less likely way of dying than being hit by lightning.

"Realistically, after this dies down, the campuses are not going to run out and barricade all their campuses. ... Statistically, it doesn't need to happen," said McGoey, who has consulted with a number of schools on security. "Everything that is suggested to be done costs money and takes time, and schools and universities for the most part do not have the money, do not have the time."

Several campus law enforcement officials, however, said they want to do more in at least one area: campus communication.

Virginia Tech officials activated an automated voice-mail and e-mail alert system after the first shootings Monday, although some students complained that they heard nothing until the gunman was in the midst of killing people in an engineering building.

Locally, different campuses use different techniques to maintain communication. UC Berkeley has a siren, campus PA system and computer alert system for emergencies; CSU East Bay has a network of emergency volunteers, an e-mail alert system and a community policing program.

Spicuzza said UCD was already looking into alert systems such as e-mail, cell phone voice mail and text messaging before the Virginia Tech shooting. Three or four vendors will be on campus to present options in the next week, she said.

"That automatic notification is going to be such a great tool for us to use," Spicuzza said.

Some advocates argue that campuses need to move faster to embrace the high-tech communications methods preferred by their students.

Katherine Andriole, assistant program director for Security on Campus Inc., a Pennsylvania nonprofit, said all campuses should implement a cell phone text message alert system.

"With the technology we have now, it is absolutely the quickest way to reach every student," Andriole said. "You have to get every student. You have to get everyone in safe location. Nowadays, students always have their cell phones. If you do e-mail, not everyone is going to check, and you are going to have kids who walk off to class."

One outfit providing a student text message alert system is e2Campus, a service by Omnilert, LLC, a Virginia company that allows universities to send a variety of routine and emergency notices to students' cell phones, said Nick Gustavson, chief technical officer of the firm's parent company.

Most of e2Campus' 30 university clients are on the East Coast, although Foothill-De Anza Police Chief Levine said he has a meeting scheduled this week to look at bringing the program to his campuses.

"All of the chiefs and security directors are aware of the potential for this happening on each of the campuses," Levine said. "We try to balance the needs of the academic world and the needs of law enforcement. Some colleges are more enlightened than others."

— Reach the writers at mstannard@sfchronicle.com, tschevitz@sfchronicle.com and sstello@davisenterprise.net


Copyright, 2007, The Davis Enterprise. All Rights Reserved.