RACINE COUNTY — Amid a state and national conversation about how best to protect students, local higher education institutions are also examining their security measures.
School shootings across the country this year have ignited discussions about the best ways to address safety. In February, 17 people were killed during a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Then in May, 10 people died in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Texas.
Local school districts have pursued a slice of the $100 million of grants the state made available for safety initiatives earlier this year. At the higher education level, officials said they are constantly reviewing safety practices at their campuses.
Tom Davis, the director of security at Gateway Technical College, said the college is training faculty and staff on how to respond in the event of an active shooter. The college wants to eventually expand that training to students too, he said.
Gateway is utilizing the ALICE model, which stands for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate. Davis said the idea is to make an escape, if the option is available, before locking down in place.
Gateway is also working on upgrades to its emergency notification system, he said. The update would allow the college to push notifications onto the screens of campus computers, so that people could be alerted to an emergency discreetly, if needed.
“If someone’s on the computer in class or at a desk, whether they’re faculty or staff or students, they should get the message that something’s going on and that they need to, at that point, get to a safe location,” Davis said.
He said Gateway is also expanding the presence of security officers. An officer, contracted through G4S Global Security, is now present full time at the Burlington campus. In addition, the Kenosha, Racine and Elkhorn campuses have security officers present on a full-time basis.
A future expansion, Davis said, may include an officer at the iMET Center in Sturtevant, because the college expects the number of classes held at the campus to increase. Officers from other campuses cover the iMET Center as needed, and the Racine campus answers any calls or alarms, Davis said.
The security officers do not have police powers, he said. When a matter requires a police presence, Gateway works with local law enforcement agencies.
No specific security changes are pending at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside at this time, said Jim Heller, the chief of the campus’ Police and Public Safety Department.
“We’re at the forefront of where we need to be,” he said. “There’s always room for improvement. We’re always looking at that.”
John Mielke, the campus’ director of strategic communications, said Parkside has been training students, faculty and staff about responding to an active shooter for years. In addition, the university has been updating the locks on classroom doors over the past few years to make them safer in an emergency situation, he said.
Overall, Heller highlighted the safe nature of the Parkside campus.
“We pride ourselves on that,” he said.
Higher education environments
Securing a higher education environment presents different challenges than primary and secondary schools, officials said. Members of the public can freely enter buildings, for example, and some campuses include multiple buildings.
Steven Healy, the chief executive officer of Margolis Healy, a campus security consulting firm, said institutions should prepare for emergencies in four areas: prevention, preparedness, response and recovery.
He said that securing higher education campuses can be challenging because of their landscape and because schools aim to make the campus inviting to the wider community. But also, he noted, the population is older, and the issues they face can differ, such as a higher prevalence of drinking and sexual assault.
Healy said he hopes recent high profile events — shootings and those that involved sexual violence — force conversations about school safety.
“We want these horrific events to create a sense of urgency around ensuring that we have taken prudent and reasonable steps to provide reasonably safe environments, recognizing that we can never make a promise of absolute security,” he said.
“We want these horrific events to create a sense of urgency around ensuring that we have taken prudent and reasonable steps to provide reasonably safe environments, recognizing that we can never make a promise of absolute security.” Steven Healy, chief executive officer of Margolis Healy