Dawson College upgrades security in wake of fatal shooting
Universities and colleges learned important safety lessons from Dawson, Va. Tech
Macleans.ca | Aug 20, 2007 |
Less than a year after a shooting rampage that left one student dead and 20 others injured, Dawson College students are returning to a school with a revamped security and communications system. The changes are subtle and discreet, but college officials say they are better prepared to deal with an emergency situation as a result. Among the changes are emergency phone lines, deadbolt locks on classroom doors, and an intercom system that will be able to announce messages to different parts of the junior college.
Given recent school deaths at Dawson College and Virginia Tech, among others, enhancing campus security and communications is a common concern at school orientations in the United States and educational institutions across Canada. As students milled about Dawson's downtown campus during orientation week checking out class schedules and securing lockers, workers were busy installing security upgrades, hoping to have them ready when classes begin on Wednesday.
A Dawson student union official said security hasn't been first and foremost on the minds of new students dropping by their offices. "There's definitely more security on campus but I wouldn't be worried, I've been in school the whole summer and everything's ready for the school year," said Shanice Rose, a second-year student.
It was last Sept. 13 that Kimveer Gill walked into Dawson College's picturesque campus and opened fire in a cafeteria, killing 18-year-old Anastasia De Sousa and injuring 20 students before he was wounded by a Montreal police officer and subsequently committed suicide.
The same classrooms where students and staff scrambled for shelter have been fitted with deadbolts that can be locked from inside. A new communications system allows officials to broadcast to particular sections of the institution and into classrooms. Landline phones have been upgraded to allow a 911 operator to trace the call to a specific location. In addition, Telus Corp. is installing a dedicated cell network using discreetly placed antennae to avoid a cell phone overload that occurred the day of the shooting. The college says it will still rely on teachers to take the lead in the event of an emergency.
Last week, security chiefs from a number of post-secondary institutions were at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., to see what they could glean from a training exercise involving a shooter in a school residence.
These types of exercises are key in finding flaws emergency plans, says Calvin Lawrence, an ex-RCMP officer and head of CGL Consulting, an Ottawa security consulting firm. "You can have a process in place to deal with these types of situations, but unless you run scenarios and find out what the problems are that you will encounter the probability of them working is minimal," Lawrence said.
Ken Kress, manager of campus security at the University of Calgary, said while the possibility of shootings remains remote, it isn't impossible and the onus is on security departments to be on top of their game. Students and faculty at the University of Calgary will be asked to sign up online for a new text messaging system this fall to alert them to emergencies on campus. Kress said the shootings "prompted us to look at our systems and the methods we have to communicate with people and how we would respond to an emergency of that nature."
Montreal's Concordia University lived through its own shooting rampage in 1992 when professor Valery Fabrikant gunned down four of his colleagues. Ten years later, the university experienced a riot stemming from a cancelled speaking engagement involving former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Concordia is regarded by some as one of the most secure institutions in Canada due to lessons learned from those events and is constantly upgrading its security, conducting mock scenarios and checking with Montreal police on tactical plans, university spokeswoman Chris Mota said. Montreal's four universities have an agreement that allows them to share security operations facilities in the event of a major problem, Mota said.
Dawson College has a separate agreement to use Concordia's security facility should the need arise.
Universities say they work closely with their local police forces to ensure that police tactical units have a good idea of the campus layouts and plans of action. Increasingly, universities are sharing their security information with each other. "When tragedies like this occur, it gives an unfortunate opportunity to review your existing policies," said Dave Patterson, director of campus security at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont.