UOAlert is an app students can download to alert them of news on campus including attacks. Photo: Rame Abdulkader/Fulcrum
SecurUO is an app students can download to alert them of emergencies on campus. Photo: Rame Abdulkader/Fulcrum
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Run, hide and defend are the instructions given out by the university

The University of Ottawa and Carleton University both had tests to their active attacker protocols last year. 

The U of O had a van speed through campus last March, but failed to alert students to the danger quickly enough, whereas Carleton had a false active attacker report sent out to some students and displayed on monitors last January.

Irena Velez, a third-year journalism student at Carleton, was on campus when the notification was sent out. 

“People said that they weren’t prepared and they had no idea what to do in the situation,” said Velez. “My friends were surprised that Carleton would send a notification about an active shooter on campus but provide no instructions on what to do, where to go, and how to act.”

Although the notification was sent out accidentally, the university says it taught them something about how it notifies their students of potential dangers.

Carleton Campus Safety Services said in an emailed statement that they learned that many on campus were unaware of the university’s safety procedures.

“It gave (us) a great opportunity to engage with the community because members are eager to learn about what they need to do in an emergency to safeguard themselves,” they wrote.

Carleton released an updated page on what to do in case of an attack on campus, which is similar to the existing one from U of O.

The U of O  had a scare in 2014 when there was a shooting at the National War Memorial and Parliament Hill. The university, and essentially the whole city, was in lockdown mode. 

Cameron Beare, a U of O alumnus, says the situation was strange.

“We huddled in a nearby office for an hour and a half,” said Beare,  “Information from the city confused us. Was there one shooter? Multiple? Could I walk outside? We started to see people wander outside the window and after 90 minutes decided it was safe to take the risk.”

SecurUO is an emergency alert system used to alert students, staff, and faculty of emergencies on campus via notifications and displayed alerts on campus monitors. But both U of O and Carleton students said there were inconsistencies in students receiving those notifications.

Michelle Beechinor, a third-year criminology student, says she had to look up the information to find it. She said unless a student was specifically looking for said policies, they wouldn’t necessarily know what to do. 

“But the university’s policy is not so different from that of most places,” said Beechinor. 

She added that she’s familiar with the instructions on the website, and said that they’re similar to the drills practiced in elementary school and high school. 

However, she said that the university should increase awareness around these policies, especially for international students who may have never practiced lockdowns before.

“It would be useful to have media campaigns around the school in the form of posters and social media campaigns to have as many eyes on them as possible. Another useful method would be showing a video in first-year classes,” she said. 

At U of O, there are two possible safety procedures to follow: a hold and secure, or a lockdown. 

A hold and secure is when there is a “violent attacker armed with a deadly weapon” off campus, while a lockdown is commenced if the attacker is on campus. However, both essentially warrant the same response. 

According to the policy page, students would be informed of an attack via their email addresses, all campus computers would display a warning message, and social media would be updated, along with the U of O’s website.

The U of O’s website has a template of the warning message that would be received by email. The warning message would include the date and time of the incident, a description of the situation, the affected area, and indicate what to do.

Both the U of O and Carleton websites add that there are three main steps if there is an active attacker in the area: run, hide and defend.

Isabelle Mailloux Pulkinghorn, the U of O’s media relations manager, explained via email how the university would respond to an active attacker. She said that the Ottawa Police Service would take full command of the situation and that the university’s Protection Services would provide support.

She also said that the U of O is working with the City of Ottawa to develop a “consistent, city-wide approach to our Protective Measures Programs (PMP).” The PMP — which is still under development —  includes consistent terminology, an awareness program, and a training program.