Drew Community Questions Safety Protocols After Shelter-In-Place

By Nicole Sydor | Editor-in-Chief

11 mins read
Classroom window barricaded during shelter in place. Image courtesy of Nicole Sydor.

In light of the shelter-in-place at Rider University on Apr. 3rd and the Convent School Shooting in Nashville, TN, Drew University was on high alert and was put in a shelter-in-place protocol due to an investigation at Saint Elizabeth University. According to the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, there was a threat of violence made by a potentially armed suspect on Saint Elizabeth’s campus near Convent Station. This event has raised much concern over preparation for dangerous, high risk situations among students and faculty. 

At 10:48 a.m., a message was sent out through the university campus alert system stating: “Drew is aware of a situation at St. Elizabeth University and is monitoring the activity. There is no known threat to Drew’s campus.” A similar email was sent out a few minutes later, adding: “We will provide any updates through emergency channels as needed.” 

At 11:27 a.m., another alert was sent out asking students and faculty to follow shelter-in-place guidelines and assuring that there was no known threat to campus. A corresponding email, sent out 11 minutes later, contained more information: “While there is no known threat to the Drew campus, out of an abundance of caution we have issued a shelter-in-place. Accordingly, students, faculty and staff are to remain indoors and await further instruction. Please do not leave until an ‘all clear’ alert is received. More information will follow.”

As articulated on Drew’s website, the standard shelter-in-place protocol is to remain indoors. Students are to remain within a building, rather than walk around campus, until an “all clear” message is received. In the event of biohazards, students and staff may be asked to move to a sealable room; during extreme weather conditions they may be asked to move to a room with no windows. 

A lockdown, on the other hand, is used when there is “an immediate threat of violence in or around the school.” In this case, doors are to be locked and lights are to be turned off until an “all clear” message is received. 

Following the message, there were a variety of reactions across campus. Some classrooms went into lockdown mode, locking doors and closing blinds, some students were walking about campus and many were left with questions about the situation. 

Classroom door barricaded during shelter in place. Image courtesy of Nicole Sydor.

At 1:03 p.m., the university campus alert system informed students that the reason there continued to be a shelter-in-place was to comply with the requests of Morris Co. & Madison Officials. Students that were in class when the protocol started remained in their buildings until 3:03 p.m., when the “all clear” message was received. 

During the nearly three-and-a-half hour shelter-in-place, many professors were left in the dark as they were not receiving messages from the university campus alert system, which was providing more information than email. 

Some professors, like adjunct Professor Bridget Looney, were left in a difficult position when it came to ensuring the safety of their students. 

“Just some thoughts for the future about how we could improve the space [Seminary Hall 210]: an interior lock would be helpful, a fire extinguisher even if it’s just to use as a weapon,” said Looney. “Also window coverings for the exit door and a way to keep somebody from easily climbing up the fire escape, because, although it was a great alternative exit for us, it was still another way for someone to get into the room.”

She also emphasized the need for more consistent communication about ongoing  situations and protocols, which she thinks would leave everyone much less stressed.

Isla Ubiles (‘24) also commented on the management and communication during the event. “I’ve had experience with this, but this felt worse. It was incredibly mismanaged; we [the United States] have had hundreds of school shootings. There have been hundreds of mass shootings [in this country] since I have been at Drew and there is not an efficient enough plan in place for if someone has a gun near here or makes a threat in the surrounding area.”

Ubiles, a prospective school teacher, felt that Drew did not do enough to keep students informed. “We had no idea what was going on and so I was incredibly anxious during it.” 

Katie Carmichael (‘25), who was with Looney for the shelter-in-place, discussed the results of the insufficient information provided by Drew. “The lack of information that we were getting and understanding led to a lot of misinformation.”

Commuters were also put in a precarious situation, due to being without keycard access to all buildings. 

Frank Merckx, Vice President for Enrollment Management & Campus Life, indicated that commuter students, during a shelter-in-place, can either enter a residence hall with a friend, stay in one of Drew’s public buildings or remain in their car. Some commuter students, however, felt otherwise about what should be done during a shelter-in-place, or even a lockdown. 

Nicole Giao (‘25) said the shelter-in-place was extremely unorganized and inconsiderate to commuter students, highlighting that commuters have no set place to go. “For future shelter in place protocols, commuters should be able to have a place where we feel safe and not just the school buildings, which, may I add, have no locks,” she said.

After the event, many students and faculty were left with much to consider. 

Adjunct English Professor Jacob Soule commented “I think, though, that often when a shocking and/or stressful event happens, the effects can be delayed. I know for my part, I was much more tired than I normally would be on a Tuesday evening and I think this week as a whole feels a lot longer and more intense than an average week as a result.” 

Ubiles also attested to the fact that there was no attention to student mental health after the event. Students who have experienced similar events in the past could have had a traumatic response, amplifying their stress and negatively impacting their mental health.

In an official statement, Drew Student Government President Ashley Kibel said “I am relieved that everyone on campus is safe and unharmed. This event caused a lot of anxiety for many people but I am going to work with Drew’s administration to ensure better communication, should this happen again. Security measures should be clear and available to everyone to prevent any confusion and distress. That being said, I encourage everyone on campus, staff and faculty included, to be educated or educate themselves on safety procedures such as shelter-in-place and lockdown.”

Merckx said “The objective [of Drew faculty, staff, and administration] was first and foremost to ensure the safety of our students, faculty, and staff on campus, and all decisions were made with this in mind and in accordance with local authorities.” Merckx outlined the current protocol for shelter-in-place or lockdowns on campus. He underscored the importance of reviewing the ALICE™ training program on Drew’s website or reaching out for training from ALICE™ educators. 

He also highlighted the variety of safety protocols we have on campus. “This includes access to campus at certain times of the night, limitations on access to certain buildings, camera systems that are monitored, and other commonly used protocols and tools. Community members play an important role in this process as well, and we always encourage students, faculty, and staff to report things they think are suspicious. That can be done by contacting Campus Security at 973-408-3379 or via the LiveSafe app.”  

Merckx finally noted that: “I am very grateful that there was never a known threat to Drew’s campus and that the extensive search by law enforcement officials found no threat to the St. Elizabeth University campus. All of Drew’s actions were made with an abundance of caution in mind, and I am thankful for the cooperation of our students, faculty, and staff during this time.”

After the events on Tuesday, many Drew community members are similarly relieved that there was no known threat. However, many have been left with lasting concerns regarding Drew’s protocol and what it means to be prepared during events like a shelter-in-place or an active shooter threat.

Nicole Sydor is a sophomore majoring in English and French and minoring in psychology and education.

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