SEARCY, Ark. – Campus safety is on the minds of many following a deadly mass shooting at Michigan State University Monday night. In Arkansas, college students and staff are looking at the security they have in place.
Michigan State University’s student body is about 10 times the size of Harding University’s and five times the University of Central Arkansas, but their safety considerations are the same.
In its most secure places, Harding University uses remote access. It’s one of its greatest resources if someone tries to wreak havoc.
“There’s not a whole lot you can do to prevent a determined attacker from getting into an area or into a building. Really what we look at is how quickly can we secure the biggest part of our campus, so we can keep as many people safe as possible,” Harding University Assistant Director of Public Safety Ken Davis said.
Davis said his 24/7 dispatch team monitors close to 600 cameras. He explained their surveillance system is connected to their access control system with one push of a button, they can lock down every door that is on access control on campus. To add that level of control to every interior or exterior door on campus would cost on the low end $20M Davis said.
Which buildings that have remote access outside of dorms mostly depend on when the building was built. Newer buildings such as where nursing students go to class have controlled access at every entrance and only the students in those majors can card in after hours.
An hour away at the University of Central Arkansas campus in Conway, it’s a similar situation. A UCA spokesperson said many of their buildings are only accessible by key card between the hours of 5:00 P.M. and 7:30 A.M. It varies from building to building and is affected by night classes.
Gillian Howard is a UCA sophomore studying mass communications. She said she lives off campus and does feel safer in some buildings than others.
“It’s a community and it’s great to interact with people that aren’t just going to campus, but it does also make me wonder, you know, who can just walk over here and what kind of security is going on?,” Howard said.
Kaden Coones said he can’t imagine a shooting on his campus but knows it could happen.
“I’m kind of getting desensitized to it unfortunately because it’s just happening so frequently, and nothing is being wholistically done about it,” Coones said.
In 2017, Arkansas legislators passed Act 562 allowing handguns on campus for those with concealed carry licenses and special training by Arkansas State Police. New laws, technology and shootings like what happened at Michigan State University impact the topic and tone of weekly public safety review meetings Davis has with Harding University Executive Vice President Dr. Jean-Noel Thompson.
“We don’t assume we know it all, so we’re always looking at broader resources,” Dr. Thompson said. “There’s a process that via video or just communication in which other officers can learn what did that team do right? What did they do wrong? And then we try to incorporate that from a procedural standpoint, from a technological standpoint, communication standpoint to incorporate all those things into what we do here.”
Davis said he’s been in his position 26 years and stated the modern phenomenon of the active shooter started with Columbine.
“Back then the response was secure the perimeter and wait for SWAT teams,” Davis said. “They realized quickly we can’t afford to do that anymore.”
Davis said more lessons were learned following the shooting at Virginia Tech where the shooter had chained together doors.
“It’s not just enough to react to the shooter. You have to get into the building quickly,” Davis said.
In an active shooter situation, campuses like Harding’s send an emergency text to everyone with the instructions to run, hide, fight if you can, or lockdown. The campus also runs lockdown drills which have been specifically designed for active shooter situations.