(Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 05--When leaders decided to close Luzerne County Community College after receiving a threat on March 27, they issued a message telling students and faculty to leave at 9:30 a.m.
Inside the operations center of the college in Nanticoke, Bill Barrett turned to monitors showing video from security cameras around campus.
"Within minutes, we were able to see people leaving. They were streaming out of the buildings," said Barrett, the director of campus safety and security.
The investigation into the threat is still going on and no one has been arrested, but already Barrett and other security workers have learned something about the college's emergency alert system.
"We know it works," Barrett said.
Federal law requires colleges to notify students, faculty and workers fast when emergencies occur and to devise plans for responding to emergencies. The alerts reach students and faculty as text messages they read on smartphones and emails they view on computer screens.
Penn State University plans to switch to a system on June 30 that also will deliver voice messages to telephones and "more robust" links to Facebook and Twitter, the Penn State Newswire reported Wednesday.
While the shooting at Virginia Tech University that left 33 people dead in 2007 and the shooting that killed four at Fort Hood, Texas on Wednesday highlighted one reason for creating alert systems, colleges find other occasions for sending mass messages.
Fires or outbreaks of infectious disease are examples given on the website of the Clery Center for Security on Campus.
This winter, LCCC sent out alerts several times when snow delayed or cancelled classes for a day, Lisa Nelson, director of college relations, said.
Messages reach students and faculty at LCCC's main campus in Nanticoke and its satellite centers in Hazleton and six other locations.
In addition to texts and emails, messages appear on four video screens outdoors at the main campus in Nanticoke. Emergency messages also can be sent to screens in college buildings that normally post listings of the day's events.
The website of LCCC lists a plan to follow if a shooting occurs. The plan includes advice on sheltering in place, leaving the scene of a shooting and interacting with police. Students and faculty, the plan suggests, can plan escape routes in advance and should be aware there may be more than one shooter.
After reviewing response to the threat on March 27, Barrett said "very, very few," people had to be told to leave because most received and obeyed the alerts.
He estimates that 7,000 people receive LCCC alerts, which students are encouraged to sign up for at orientation sessions.
To spread alerts to visitors who might not have signed up to receive them, the college might purchase sirens or loudspeakers. Loudspeakers also could notify athletes, groundskeepers and others who might not check cellphones while they're outdoors at LCCC, Barrett said.
Radios let campus security officers talk to dispatchers at the Luzerne County 911 Emergency Center and to Nanticoke police, who responded within minutes to the threat on March 27. The FBI and state police arrived soon after.
Authorities haven't disclosed what the threat said, but they said the threat came by computer. The information technology staff at LCCC helped college leaders decide what to do about the threat, which resulted in the college being closed all day on March 27 and again on March 28.
"We have a great IT department. This came in via email. They were instrumental working with law enforcement and (determining) what we were up against," Barrett said.
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