Fully uniformed officers. A new emergency notification system. Active shooter trainings. Full-scale mass casualty drills. For Shawn Harrison, director of Public Safety and Emergency Management at Montgomery College, campus safety is a changing landscape accentuated all too often by harrowing images that have become commonplace in the nation’s news cycle.
“We’re constantly working to enhance our knowledge of safety on college campuses in the face of the reality we’re living in,” Harrison said. “As an open institution, we’re identified as a ‘soft target,’ so we must adapt.”
On May 3, the College’s Rockville Campus will be the focal point of a full-scale emergency preparedness exercise involving the College’s public safety personnel as well as Montgomery County first responders and emergency management teams. Some Montgomery College students and staff will even assume “acting” roles as victims during the mock scenario.
Steve Davis, a Montgomery College alum, spent 16 years as a uniformed firefighter, paramedic, and command officer before moving to an administrative role with Montgomery County. Today, he is the chief operating officer of All Hands Consulting, an emergency management company, working on a “preparedness cycle” for the College and its county partners. The cycle began in February with a workshop, was followed by a tabletop exercise that had over 50 College representatives and county first responders, and will culminate with the May 3 exercise.
According to Davis, the exercises aim to review current Montgomery College and county emergency response procedures, protocols, and notification systems with a focus on response procedures to an active assailant incident.
“Preparedness is all about being proactive in developing plans. The tabletop exercise was very useful in determining what additional steps are necessary to enhance the plan and to support future training and exercise efforts,” Davis said. “The upcoming full-scale exercise will give the College an opportunity to drill on an active assailant event and to practice protection and response procedures.”
Harrison thinks the prepared exercises play a critical role in maintaining the relationship the College has with county and local first responders, from local police to the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
“Given our numerous partnerships with the county, these drills are very important for Montgomery College,” she said. “They are a part of the community to which we serve.”
Safeguarding Student Success: Public Safety Forums
Harrison is also holding a series of public safety forums titled “Safeguarding Student Success.” According to Harrison, these conversations address the current conditions that warrant an increased level of security and protection on College campuses. Topics include community policing, enhanced law enforcement authority for Montgomery College public safety officers, defining “special police officers” and fully commissioned police officers and their roles on Maryland community college campuses, and the findings of recent Montgomery College public safety assessment studies.
“The demands of campus public safety services must meet the demands of the ongoing challenges of our society,” Harrison said. “Whether it’s an exercise or a discussion with students and faculty, I want people to walk away with the understanding that we’re doing everything we can to ensure the safety at all of our campuses and locations.”
All students, faculty, and staff are asked to attend a forum and engage in the conversation, as well as participate in the public safety survey.