After shots rang out in HUB Mall earlier this week, confused and frightened students waited hours to receive an emergency notification from the University of Alberta about the situation.
University of Alberta Protective Services (UAPS) and Edmonton Police Service (EPS) responded immediately to the crisis. However, the University Crisis Management Team did not begin to assemble until approximately an hour after shots were fired.
The shooting left three dead and one in critical condition, none of whom were students or staff members at the U of A. Although students were physically unharmed, it wasn’t until hours later that the university’s emergency response system took effect, leaving students to turn to social media to get information.
“Hi, I am in the basement of HUB and there is a shooter upstairs,” tweeted one student shortly after the incident. “Can you please tell me what is going on?”
Students’ Union President Colten Yamagishi also sent out a tweet at 2:10 a.m., writing, “Risk Management, I hope that an emergency alert is being sent out right away. I have not received anything to my phone yet.”
The Risk Management Emergency Notification website states: “Email and SMS can be slow in an emergency. When large volumes of messages are being delivered at once, the various systems can slow down. For this reason, we ask everyone to pass on the message to those around them who may not have received it.”
The university also posted a statement on their website emphasizing that the home page was the primary means of communicating information to students. The release said, “The University does have an emergency notification system, which includes several modes of contact. Any time an incident happens, a decision is made about which methods of notification we will use.”
However, the university didn’t post notifications online until 3:28 a.m. — hours after the shooting took place. Their response to the shootings contrasted sharply to situations in the past.
Two years ago, when a student committed suicide in their HUB dorm, the emergency response system took effect almost immediately.
“The areas of HUB Mall and Rutherford Library were evacuated immediately — alarms sounded, and the university’s emergency response system alerted people via telephone, email and text messages, and Campus Security Services personnel conducted evacuation procedures,” read a statement released by the university in 2010.
In light of last week’s tragic events, students have also brought up concerns about HUB’s lack of security. Other on-campus residences, such as Lister Hall, have a check-in system and monitored premises. HUB, however, is accessible 24 hours per day, and all entrances remain unlocked.
EPS, Provost Carl Amrhein, and President Indira Samarasekera have all released statements since the incident, but questions are not being answered at this time.
In a post on the university website, Amrhein wrote that Residence Services employees ushered students in the hallway of HUB as far away from the shootings as possible.
“Immediately on arrival, Edmonton Police took control of the crime scene and began a room to room search to determine whether there was any remaining danger to residences, and to advise students of the situation – instructing them to remain in their rooms,” he wrote.
“Once determining that there was no longer any immediate threat, the Police and University Officials activated the HUB public address system.”
Amhrein added that the university will be conducting a full review of its communications protocols, when time permits.
While HUB remained closed until early Saturday morning, Lister Hall offered a place for student residents to stay, as well as counseling services throughout the night.
“They had a crime scene in their home, it’s a serious problem,” said Dean of Students Frank Robinson.
“Some students saw things that a student shouldn’t have to see. It’s going to take a while for them to have to deal with that.”
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