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When gun shots went off in North Hall, Kelly Cross
’08 froze as teams of armed police officers stormed the building looking for the
“deranged” boyfriend said to be firing shots. That was scenario one of the mock
emergency drill. Later, two armed men wearing black military garb entered the
building and began firing. Amidst the chaos of screaming students trying to escape,
the narrow hallways, multiple doors and a fire alarm set off by the shots, several
officers, about six students and the two suspects were “shot.” One police officer,
shot in the face, was killed. That was scenario two.

It was a blur, says Cross. Although she was given instructions prior to the drill to hysterically grab the legs of a police officer, she says her mind went blank. “All of a sudden there were four police officers pointing guns at me. It was the last thing I thought about. You just forget everything.”

Also participating as victims were Albright employees Mildred Rivera ’06 and Connie Hillbish. “Honestly, even though we knew they were coming, we were in shock when we heard the gun shots. The first thing you think is that we need to get out,” Rivera says. “And they tell you don’t leave, to stay where you are,” Hillbish adds.

The emergency response simulation was the initiative of Albright Public Safety, which invited the Reading Police Department to conduct the drill. It came as a result of the shooting at Virginia Tech last April. Robert Gerken, director of public safety at Albright, says that when Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho went on his rampage at Virginia Tech, shooting and killing 33 people, including himself,
the first thing Gerken did was pull Albright’s emergency response plan off the shelf to review. “This [the drill] was the most proactive thing we could have done,” he says.

Albright, the first college in Berks County to conduct such a drill, invited the other Berks County colleges to observe and participate. In addition to 35 Reading police officers and Albright’s own public safety officers, four Kutztown and two Penn State Berks security officers took part, as well as administrators from Alvernia and Reading Area Community College. The Reading Police Department mobile command center was stationed outside of North Hall.

Sgt. Scott Weidner of the Reading Police Department led the exercise. The training enabled Reading police and Albright public safety to learn what to expect from one another in an emergency situation, Weidner says. “We don’t spend a lot of time here [on campus], so we need their [Albright’s] help. We don’t know the physical layout of campus,” he says.

Albright and Penn State Berks presidents Lex McMillan and Susan Phillips Speece, along with print journalists and television news crews, observed the drill from a stairwell as police searched for the “shooters” and removed victims.

Many lessons were learned from the drill. Having floors clearly marked in the residence halls, floor plans on file with police in advance, and at least one person from campus security in the command center to communicate with the police are vital, says Gerken.

Gina-Lyn Crance, vice president of student affairs and dean of students, says that as the drill unfolded, she felt overwhelmed by “the sheer volume of ‘what if’s.’ What if students are in the building, what if people run out, what if someone jumps out a window, what if we communicate something we think to be clear, but whoever hears it is unclear, what if the police take a long time to respond…”

In a sense, Crance says, no matter how well we plan, if a tragedy strikes, we’re in the moment, so you have to think about planning to
handle the unplanned.”

Gerken agrees. “There is no way you can plan for every situation, but this takes us a step closer.”

This semester Albright also initiated EZ Campus, an emergency notification system using text messaging to the cell phones of students, staff and faculty.

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