Scare response scrutinized


Scare response scrutinized


<i>Community members criticize level of communication during Wednesday&#39;s incident</i>

By Edward Truong
Friday, May 18, 2007

Some students and staff expressed concern that the university did not communicate quickly enough with the community following Wednesday&#39;s weapon scare in Westwood.

But officials said the community was not in danger and so they focused on controlling rumors.

L.A. police shut down several blocks in the North Village in response to reports of an armed individual in the area Wednesday afternoon. In the investigation, police found a crossbow rather than a gun, and university officials did not take any formal action on campus.

Nancy Greenstein, director of police community services for UCPD, said it was a "self-contained potential incident. ... The police (had) it under control."

"There appeared to be no risk to campus or population," she said.

But some believe the university should have informed students and staff about the incident sooner.

Ruth Tesfamichael, a second-year English student, said she had no real information about what was going on, except she heard rumors from another student that there was a gunman in the area.

"Word of mouth spread really quickly," she said. "Everyone was misinformed."

She said she hoped the university would have found a way to reach students.

"I expected an e-mail (from the university), but didn&#39;t get anything," she said.

Nancy Chakravarty, director of admissions for Corinne A. Seeds University Elementary School, said she was especially concerned about the lack of communication because parents were calling in to the school with questions and she was able to offer no response.

"We had no idea that anything was going on," Chakravarty said. "One of our teachers came up and asked what ... the helicopters (flying around the area) were for."

She said her staff was entirely unaware of the situation until concerned parents started contacting the office.

"Parents had called and said there had been a shooting on campus."

Lawrence Lokman, assistant vice chancellor of University Communications, called the incident a "rumor-control" issue for the university.

He said media relations officials spent Wednesday contacting City News Service and other media outlets to correct reports, such as KCBS&#39;s report of a "UCLA Gunman" which was later removed.

"We all realize we&#39;re in a fast media environment," he said. "These kinds of things always drive home (a) level of angst. ... (It&#39;s) important not to add to the angst."

Greenstein said e-mails were later sent out to various mailing lists or list-servs that went to building coordinators and residence halls.

"The e-mail that people are talking about was addressing the rumor control," she said, referring to the list-serv notice at around 4 p.m., after the incident was over.

E-mails were not sent out to the entire UCLA community.

"One thing (we) want to avoid is over-noticing people. Focus groups (formed after the Virginia Tech shooting) have said if they get too much information or bulletins, they stop looking at them," Greenstein said. "When it&#39;s really important, we&#39;re going to tell you."

Chakravarty contacted UCPD and was told there was no shooting and the students were not in danger.

There are 435 students who attend the on-campus elementary school, which is the laboratory school of the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, according to the school&#39;s Web site.

The school day ends at 2:40 p.m. and students wait to be picked up in the carpool area at 2:45 p.m. The incident was first reported at around 1:30 p.m., according to witnesses, and police re-opened the streets by 3:20 p.m.

She said it was good that officials tried to lower people&#39;s anxiety, but believes she should have been notified immediately, even if her school was not at risk.

"(It&#39;s) important that we be informed so that we can take action if we need to, and we can allay the fears of the parents," she said. "Parents hear things, they get worried, they call us and they expect us to know."

Since the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, university campuses nationwide have been sensitive to campus safety issues.

Greenstein said Wednesday&#39;s incident was not an issue of public safety and was not similar to the events at Virginia Tech.

But she added that emergency protocols would have been enacted had the situation been similar to the Virginia Tech shooting.

"(They are) totally not comparable situations," she said.

Lokman said there are trained officials and processes in place if there had been a more serious incident.

He said that depending on the situation, university administrators could choose to use one or more different means of mass communication for safety purposes, such as loudspeakers on police cars, and the campus television station on channel 3 and the emergency radio station, 1630 AM.

He said there is also technology in place, created before the Virginia Tech shooting, that would allow the university to instant message the community and override Web sites such as the UCLA home page and MyUCLA.

"That is technology we&#39;re evaluating to add to our mix of options," he said.

Gabe Rose, Undergraduate Students Association Council president-elect, said university administrators should consider alternative methods of communication.

He said since students do not constantly check their e-mails, "(it&#39;s) important to look for other ways to distribute the message. ... E-mail is not effective."

Instead, Rose said student leaders and university officials should rethink the current policies to come up with different ways to reach students in case of emergencies, such as a text-message system.

"It&#39;s important to not get caught up in the status quo, but to be creative and think harder," he said, adding that students should express their concerns and share ideas with student government leaders on how to make the campus safer.

"If you don&#39;t feel safe on campus, that&#39;s a huge problem," he said.

Greenstein said it is important to distinguish between rumors and official university notices but said the incident on Wednesday was relatively minor.

"(There were) very few people who had issues. ... Many people saw it for what it was worth," Greenstein said.


Original Source:<a href=>The Daily Bruin - May 18, 2007</a>


Edward Truong




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Edward Truong , “Scare response scrutinized,” The April 16 Archive, accessed June 24, 2024,