I'm writing with regard to the public safety incident that occurred on campus last night. Let me begin with my assessment that the campus community has demonstrated—better than any emergency preparedness exercise—that we are as well prepared as a campus can be to protect the safety of students, faculty, and staff. Generally, we benefit from our traditional campus and location in a safe residential neighborhood. However, in this day and age, we are required to respond to and communicate every potential threat, until we can rule out imminent danger.
I want to commend our entire community, including students, faculty, and staff, who patiently sheltered in place during the lock down, as well as our Public Safety and Communication teams, who worked especially well together, in coordination with the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), to respond, keep the community informed, and resolve the situation quickly.
To summarize what happened, someone riding a shuttle bus noticed that a fellow rider appeared to have a holstered gun inside his jacket. The witness took a photo of the person and his companion and immediately notified Public Safety. AU followed its protocol and immediately notified Metropolitan Police Department, began to lock down the campus, deployed officers to the scene to investigate the potential threat, and sent out the first of a series of alerts through text messages, as well as email, social media, and web.
The lock down lasted approximately two hours. During that time, AU and MPD officers sent out the witness photo via text message and social media, and were able to quickly identify the two individuals. One was an off-duty police officer in plain clothes and the other was an AU student he was visiting. AU policy and D.C. code prohibit those other than law enforcement officers from possessing or carrying weapons on campus, but off-duty officers are authorized to carry their firearms at all times, so no crime was committed, and no policy was violated. Until his identity was confirmed, treating the threat as real was the correct response.
Throughout this period, we sent frequent text and email messages, and turned to web and social media to update the AU community. Parents were updated every hour on the hour via email blast. Once the police were able to determine there was no threat, the all clear was given.
I want to acknowledge that until we gave the all clear, it was tense, disruptive and disconcerting. For some, in the wake of finals already rescheduled because of the weather earlier in the week, this latest disruption to the academic schedule was particularly challenging. We appreciate the responsiveness and flexibility exhibited by many. Students whose finals were directly affected during the lock down should speak with their faculty member about any concerns they have. Associate deans for the school in which the course is offered may be a secondary source of assistance.
As always, we will debrief with our Emergency Response Team to more fully assess our response during the coming days. We always learn from such events. The early sense, reinforced by media reports, social media response, and direct messages is that we followed our protocol and responded effectively.
I’m grateful that we ensured the safety of our community, and I hope we can all complete our work and go on to enjoy the holidays and winter break. Thank you for your patience and resilience.
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