- Associated Press - Saturday, October 10, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - Colleges and universities in Washington state didn’t require the wake-up call from Umpqua Community College. They’ve tightened their preparations for campus attacks after the June 2014 fatal shooting at Seattle Pacific University.

All of Washington’s public four-year schools have emergency alert systems that send text and email messages to students and staff, as well as parents who opt-in to the system. The alerts warn of police action near campus, as well as on-campus hazards.

Most schools also have other kinds of alert systems, including campus loud speakers, some of which were installed or updated during the past few years.

Students and staff at Washington State University in Pullman are trained for all kinds of emergencies, including active shooters. WSU uses students to supplement professional campus security, including an internship program with campus police.

The university used federal dollars to spread the training to more people across campus, according to Michael Gaffney, emergency management coordinator at WSU in Pullman.

More than 20 years ago, WSU had two bomb scares, including a device that exploded in a dorm room. In the past four years, three gun incidents have led to campus-wide alerts, none of which turned deadly.

After the shooting last year at Seattle Pacific University, police said preparation at the small private Christian school made a difference.

An SPU student tackled and pepper-sprayed a man who was reloading a shotgun after shooting several students. A group of others helped disarm and hold the shooter down until police could arrive.

At the time, Assistant Seattle Police Chief Paul McDonagh said he believed more people would have been killed if the university had not been so well prepared.

The alert system at the University of Washington has mostly told students and staff about gas leaks and hazardous materials, but several times last year, students were warned to stay away from crime situations concerning armed men.

Several hundred people around campus are trained at least once a year in all kinds of emergency drills from bombs to earthquakes, according to UW spokesman Norm Arkans.

At Washington’s 34 community and technical colleges, security measures vary from campus to campus, said Laura McDowell, spokeswoman for the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges. Each has its own security plans, she said, and some do regional tabletop exercises or mock drills with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“We continually survey our campus for areas where security can be improved,” said Seattle Central College spokesman David Sandler. That’s led to the installation of emergency call boxes as well as increased patrols by uniformed campus security officers, he said.

Community colleges in Washington are not authorized to have commissioned police forces, the way four-year institutions can. But they are allowed to hire campus security officers. All of the community and technical schools ban guns, though some have exceptions for law enforcement performing official duties or for students and staff with concealed weapons permits who want to keep their guns locked in a car on campus, McDowell said.

McDowell acknowledged that even the best planning may not prevent a mass shooting, but merely limit the damage.

“No matter what you do, there can be somebody with serious mental health problems that can come on campus and do horrendous things,” she said. “None of us are immune from that possibility.”


Associated Press writer Gene Johnson contributed to this report.

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