MU group considers lockdown of dorms

Monday, April 23, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:22 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

In the wake of the shooting deaths of 32 students at Virginia Tech a week ago, MU students and faculty have come to terms with a difficult reality: It could have happened here.

At meetings held last week, boards and committees set aside time in their usual schedules to examine campus emergency procedures and talk about their own views of campus security.

The Student Leadership Advisory Council’s agenda called for discussion about condom distribution and tuition increases. But it made time for Vice Chancellor Cathy Scroggs to ask the student leaders from across campus, “How safe do students feel right now?”

And at a meeting Thursday morning, building coordinators, the people who developed the tornado and fire evacuation plans for each building, broached a new topic: an around-the-clock lockdown of MU’s residence halls.

Meanwhile, MU residence hall student advisers, trained to mediate disagreements between students, stayed glued to TV sets and news Web sites, searching for more information about Ryan Clark, a residential adviser at Virginia Tech who was killed while trying to stop the shooter.

“We do things like this every day,” said Elyssa Bumgarner, a residential adviser in Graham Hall. “We have arguments between residents every day. And I don’t think once we’ve considered our lives in the process.”

But that’s no longer an option.

The shootings dominated a meeting with other residence hall staff last week, Bumgarner said.

“Most of the focus was on the fact that anybody can walk into our building at any point of the day,” she said.

All residence hall doors are locked overnight. But some halls unlock as early as 7 a.m., and the latest stay open until 11 p.m.

In most residence halls, the doors open to a front desk that is staffed as long as the doors are unlocked. That way, staff members see all the traffic into the residence hall and alert campus police if anyone posing a danger comes in.

In Graham Hall, however, doors from the outside open directly into the living quarters, with no front desk attendant to keep an eye on things.

At least three other residence halls — Defoe, Cramer and Stafford halls — are set up similarly.

“Those Virginia Tech students never expected this,” Bumgarner said. “Personally, I’m in support of having the doors locked at all times. Not even as a community adviser, but as a resident.”

It wouldn’t take much to make a lockdown happen, said Frankie Minor, director of Residential Life. If doors were locked, students would need their student identification cards to get into a building. Since that’s already how things work at night, it would be a quick process to change the hours when an identification card is required, Minor said at a meeting of student organization leaders.

And in extreme cases, it would only take about two minutes to lock every door in the residence halls, Minor said.

Brittony Corneillier, a residential adviser in Lathrop Hall, plans to talk to her residents soon about locking down the building.

Most of the complaints about keeping doors locked tend to revolve around convenience, she said.

“You would need a card to get in. Carry it with you. So what?” she said. “I wouldn’t mind it at all. If we went under 24-hour lockdown, I’m OK with that.”

Peter Ashbrook, MU’s director of environmental health and safety, brought up campus lockdown at a meeting of campus safety officers last week.

“We brought it up because we knew we’d get questions about it,” Ashbrook said. “When things like this happen, people cast about for a quick and easy solution. And one quick and easy suggestion is lockdown.”

The problem with lockdown, though, is that it makes people feel safer without necessarily fixing any problems, he said.

At Virginia Tech, a lockdown probably wouldn’t have helped anything.

“It was a student, he had a card and access,” Ashbrook said.

And even if MU did lock its doors 24 hours a day, it might not have the desired effects, said Kristen Temple, associate director for residential and academic programs.

“We are willing to provide as much security as students will put up with,” Temple said. “But if we lock the doors more than students prefer, doors get jammed, propped open. Students won’t stand for it.”

Decisions about locked doors at residence halls are made by the students who live in each hall, she said.

In most cases, that would mean they’d be initiated by residence hall leadership, such as residential advisers.

In Temple’s 15-year career at MU, only one residence hall has opted for a total lockdown, she said.

But at other schools, like the University of Oklahoma, last Monday’s events have already resulted in a 24-hour lockdown that will last at least until the end of the semester.

Emily Gillardi, a residential adviser in Lathrop Hall, said she talked to her supervisor about locking down the building last Wednesday.

“I don’t know if anything’s going to happen with it or not,” she said. “I don’t really have a whole lot of power.”

Lockdown aside, the Virginia Tech shootings did reveal some problems with emergency preparedness that MU had not considered, Ashbrook said.

Ashbrook said he tried to access Virginia Tech’s Web site for more information on the day of the attack. But the volume of other people trying to do the exact same thing had clogged the school’s servers, making the Web site unavailable.

And that could have an impact on more than just communication with the public. The only way MU can contact all of its students currently is via e-mail.

The school is looking into other communication options, as well, and server capability is on MU’s emergency preparedness checklist.

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