Rye security on safety procedures: “We don’t even like to use that term lockdown”

The main entrance to the Accolade West building at York University. (Courtesy of Theonlysilentbob/ Wikimedia Commons)

The main entrance to the Accolade West building at York University. (Courtesy of Theonlysilentbob/ Wikimedia Commons)

Ryerson staff, students, faculty and alumni have never had to experience the terrifying reality occurring on campuses across Canada and the U.S. — school shootings.

However, nearly one week ago, York University was forced to face this reality as one student was shot and one was hit by shrapnel. Thursday night in the school’s cafeteria, the university responded with standard protocol for open fire on campus, by performing a lockdown.

If someone were to open fire in the Podium building’s Hub Cafeteria — Ryerson’s security protocol is a little different than York’s.

“We don’t even like to use that term, lockdown,” said Julia Lewis, director of Ryerson’s integrated Risk Management. “We have over 400 doors — for many reasons — that’s not our approach with respect to dealing with those issues.”

While York attempted to perform a lockdown after the gun was fired, students were still moving fluidly throughout the campus. Students told York’s community newspaper, the Excalibur, that emergency messages lit up on screens in the Scott Library.

Nosheen Aziz told the paper, “It wasn’t a proper lockdown. There was security, but I could see many people leaving the library.”  This scenario is exactly what Ryerson’s security is looking to avoid.

Instead, Ryerson’s security services work very closely with the Toronto police. In the middle of an altercation Lewis said it’s challenging to lock down a campus since a shooter could be anywhere and move rapidly.

Instead, students are urged to contact security and get to a safe place. If the incident calls for it, police will be notified.

“They are the experts in this type of situation,” says Tanya Fermin-Poppleton, manager of Ryerson’s Security and Emergency Services. “We would work with them and essentially be their eyes on campus.

“Our staff knows entrances and exits, they specifically know where the washrooms are located in a particular building and they know where the elevator shutdown is versus the fire panel to help control certain situations.”

For any student attending a school in the downtown core of a city, safety is a concern. Because Ryerson is located in the heart of North America’s fourth-largest city and around Yonge-Dundas Square, the public can access the university.

York has often found itself at the centre of security incidents. But in September 2012, for example, York University experienced six sexual assaults, while Ryerson experienced five.

Since Thursday’s incident at York, students at the school have placed the blame on security services, and the school’s lack of prevention. In light of the shooting, one student has even started a petition to get more police on campus. So far, Stephanie Castellano’s petition has over 1,000 signatures.

In a response to York’s president Mamdouh Shoukri’s message to students posted on the school’s official Facebook page, Kevin Burris wrote: “Maybe your immediate focus should also be on figuring out why there’s apparently no system in place to let students know when there’s an ACTIVE SHOOTER AT LARGE ON CAMPUS.”

Back at Ryerson, security watch emails are an approach that’s been criticized by the Ryerson community for being a distraction.

The list is updated every day and includes everything from threats, assaults, robberies, and even attempts at criminal behaviour. The bulletins are sent to all staff, students, faculty and alumni, who have graduated within the past five years.

“For every person that benefits, we get a complaint,” says Ryerson president Sheldon Levy in response to the complaints.

But he reminds students that even though it’s the university’s responsibility to send the message out, campus security is still a “two-way street.”

This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 12, 2014.

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