Cooper: Learning from UTC incident

Cooper: Learning from UTC incident

August 30th, 2019 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Staff File Photo / UTC's Fletcher Hall was the scene Wednesday of a reported gunman, but the report eventually was traced to a policeman near campus who was carrying his gun from his car to his home after his shift..

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

The Monday morning quarterbacking came surely and swiftly on a Wednesday afternoon following an incident near the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus when an individual was spotted with a gun.

As it turned out, the individual was a Chattanooga Police Department officer carrying his rifle from his vehicle into his home to sleep after his shift.

Before all was said and done, and the officer even wound up looking for himself in the search, public schools were locked down, reports were made of a person in a ski mask and tactical gear, roads were closed, other reports said a suspicious person was wandering through UTC's Fletcher Hall and numerous people went into panic mode.

The incident, we hope, will bring reviews of actions taken by the Chattanooga Police Department, the UTC police department, UTC administration, parents and students.

Since we weren't privy to every decision that was made about the event, we wouldn't suggest anyone did anything wrong. But the reactions of those on campus following the incident were enough to suggest that 1) much misinformation, probably well-intended, was disseminated by many, and 2) if policies are in place about a potential shooter on campus, they all weren't adhered to, were ignored or were not known by individuals needing to know or make safety decisions.

A post by Barbara Ruggiero on the UTC Facebook site was typical of those made by people who didn't believe the incident had been handled correctly.

"This was handled horribly by the University and CPD," she wrote. "Not all students received alerts and there were mixed messages on lockdown or no lockdown. My contact with CPD insisted they were under lockdown. Students were confused and scared. There is a lot of room for improvement in the way these situations are addressed!! Not buying the off duty officer story either."

Similarly, Jane Evans Hill wrote, "This was handled very poorly! My daughter's professor knew NOTHING! She said none of the professors in the building knew what to do or how to handle the situation. She said doors to the classroom would not lock and the students in her class were having panic attacks because of the lack of updates of information. I hope this is a wake up call to university officials!!!"

A spokesman for the university said late Wednesday the campus had not been locked down but that no indication was made that an armed man had even been on campus.

However, a campus alert sent to students said, "Police are searching for a white man w/blonde hair carrying a rifle walking on E 8th St toward UTC."

If UTC reviews its actions during the event, and its Facebook post says it is doing just that and will lock down the school in similar future circumstances, it also will behoove parents and students to review what they did and didn't do.

For instance, many students complained of not getting the campus alert, but students have to sign up to get such alerts. Reportedly, a flyer suggesting students do so is posted in most classrooms, and emails are sent to students advising them to sign up for such alerts.

Parents also complained of not getting such alerts, or not knowing whether they could, but most apparently can but had not chosen to ask about doing so. They can also check reliable police social media or other media sites rather than rely on rumors and innuendo.

We are also flummoxed at the reaction of many students, the vast majority of whom are aged 18 or older and classified as adults. Many expressed shock that they might have to attend class after the incident was concluded and complained of stress and anxiety even after learning no shooter was ever present.

At some point, these students will need not only to be adults but to act like they are adults. In the adult world, a problem or temporary setback does not stop work, business or progress. One adjusts to the change and moves on.

We would never want students to ignore or downplay a campus incident involving a potential shooter, but we also believe the realization that nothing untoward actually occurred shouldn't keep a student from returning to function normally.

Parents, by the time their children reach college, should have taught them such coping skills or allowed them to learn them on their own by gradually giving them more independence. Unfortunately, college students who have yet to learn such skills are likely to have difficulties completing their class assignments, balancing work and college, and finding and keeping jobs.

Perhaps this incident can be a learning opportunity for all concerned.

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