UVa-Wise campus reacts to Wednesday lockdown

The Highland Cavalier
Staff reports

College’s reaction to be reviewed

UVa-Wise officials plan to review their response to last week’s gunman hoax to see how future incidents might be handled better, the school’s spokeswoman said.

A heavily-armed police officer stands guard outside Culbertson Hall on the UVa-Wise campus Jan. 23 during the lockdown. Photo by Jordan Fifer | The Highland Cavalier
A heavily-armed police officer stands guard outside Culbertson Hall on the UVa-Wise campus Jan. 23 during the lockdown. Photo by Jordan Fifer | The Highland Cavalier

“The crisis management team and others will meet soon to review our response and determine what worked and what needs improvement,” said Kathy Still. “Overall, we are pleased with the response.”

One criticism lodged against the school was the time between when police first arrived on campus and when students and staff first were alerted.

Police first received a 911 call from student Bryant Hairston shortly before 9 p.m.

Still said campus police Chief Steve McCoy phoned her at approximately 9:20 p.m. asking her to activate AlertNow, the college’s emergency notification system.

“We sent out an email at 9:21 and initiated the AlertNow system,” she said. “The lag between the campus lockdown and the notification was within a matter of minutes.”

Still said Chancellor Donna Henry was at home in the Lila Vicars Smith House and was notified immediately.

“She was in constant contact with Vice Chancellor Sim Ewing and others who were using the Resource Center as a command center as no one could enter or leave campus during the lockdown,” Still said.

Campus police draws favorable response

Through the confusion in the aftermath of the Jan. 23 lockdown, the actions of campus police during the lockdown have received nearly consistent positive attention.

Within a few minutes of the announcement ending the lockdown, students could be heard thanking campus police officers as they left residence halls. Facebook and Twitter pages reported the comfort that some students felt knowing that campus police officers were handling the situation.

The Campus Police Department in Cantrell Hall has been receiving visitors and calls since the incident thanking them, and even had a cake delivered by the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

“A lot of the students have just been coming in to say thank you; some of them was even very tearful,” said Diane Reeves, the department’s secretary. “They were so appreciative. I guess it was a very scary time.”

[box style=”rounded”]Related: FBI arrests UVa-Wise student in hoax[/box]

In a Jan. 24 email to the student body about the incident, Student Government Association President Phillip Blevins noted the police response.

Faculty members have also been expressing their appreciation for campus police’s actions through the lockdown.

David Volk, associate professor of music, sent an email to a number of faculty and staff on Jan. 25 reflecting on the same sentiments that Blevins mentioned.

“Thinking back to that brief window we all pondered the worst ‘what ifs,’ I’m deeply humbled by the commitment these individuals undertook on a moment’s notice,” Volk wrote.

Group hunkers in prayer 

Reports of an alleged gunman on campus Wednesday night put fear into reality for many of the students at UVa-Wise, but one group of students were comforted knowing they were still with their Christian peers.

TUPOS, a Christian group which meets every Wednesday night, had just finished its meeting, which had ran a little late, when they got word of a gunman.

“We were told by one of our TUPOS leaders that we needed to stay in the chapel,” said Megan Herndon, a junior history major and TUPOS President.

Herndon said about 20 minutes later, the school’s alerts started coming in.

“I could not believe that something like this could happen on our campus. I always thought to myself it could never happen to me,” Herndon said.

During the lockdown, the TUPOS group sang worship songs and prayed for the campus and the reported gunman.

“We, as a body of believers, prayed,” Herndon said. “My faith comforted me at that time.”

Junior communication studies major Katie Scott left in the middle of TUPOS to attend another meeting. She said being away from the TUPOS group didn’t stop her from praying when she was in an empty residence hall room in Commonwealth Hall.

“I prayed for safety and strength,” Scott said. “I wish I could have stayed with TUPOS. I hate having to leave early altogether, but it happens.”

Even though no campus authorities visited the group in the chapel, they still felt safe while reflecting on what was happening.

“Almost every student was talking on the phone,” Herndon said. “Some of us were quiet, others paced the chapel. I think everyone dealt with it in their own way.”

This experience was eye-opening for the TUPOS group, who relied on their faith to get them through a tough situation.

“I appreciate life more,” Herndon said.

Social media influences hoax news 

Many students, whether they were hiding on campus or watching from afar, took to social media outlets for information last week.

But the fast-paced barrage of status updates and tweets added to the confusion of the incident and led to a number of unverified rumors.

A simple email stating “Hunker down; gunman on campus.” transformed into misinformed claims of there being more than one gunman and the apparent summoning of SWAT teams.

Some Internet users even reported shots being fired or students getting injured.

“We had anticipated … that social media would be the unknown factor in an emergency situation, and that proved to be the case during the hoax,” said Kathy Still, the college’s spokeswoman.

A flood of students and parents updated Facebook and Instagram and made UVa-Wise a “trending topic” on Twitter.

From local news stations based out of the Tri- Cities to CNN, UVa-Wise made the nightly news and students in lockdown were being asked via Twitter for phone interviews.

If the community learned anything during the hoax, it was that social media is a powerful tool and can spread information in an instant.

It can also, however, be a danger.

“Technology gives everyone the ability to report what is happening in real time, but it does not teach people how to be responsible about it,” Still said. “We were dealing with plenty of misinformation posted on social media, and it complicated things in many ways.”

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