Shots ring out at Delaware State University shortly before 1 a.m. Two students fall to the ground, wounded.
Almost immediately, the process of warning students to stay indoors begins.
Within hours, the 400-acre campus is locked down and, at 5:10 a.m., classes are canceled as police search for the person or persons responsible for the crimes.
Delaware State’s swift response to the double shooting on its campus in Dover on Sept. 21 was a textbook example of how to handle a crisis, safety experts said.
“The idea is to contain and control,” said Adam Thermos, president of Strategic Technology Group, a Boston-based college security company. “Locking down the campus and activating mass-notification systems” is the best response to a shooting on campus.
As soon as the crime was reported to university police at 12:54 a.m., Delaware State officials began calling dormitory “resident managers” with orders to corral students safely in the hallways.
Campus police chief James Overton met with administrators at 2:11 a.m., and within two more hours, officials estimate, all 1,200 people in campus housing were notified.
“I think the biggest lesson learned from that whole situation at Virginia Tech is, don’t wait. Once you have an incident, start notifying the community,” Carlos Holmes, a university spokesman, said.
Delaware State alerted students to the emergency with phone calls, a statement on its web site, visits to dorm rooms by advisers, and handbills posted on campus and in nearby apartments.
More than half of the school’s 3,278 students live off campus and, despite widespread news coverage of the situation, many arrived at school to find its entrances barricaded.
“We directed the students not to leave the dormitory from the outset last night,” Holmes said on Sept. 21. “They were very obedient. They understood the lessons from the tragedy earlier this year.”
He added: “We cannot assume that [the gunman is] not on campus. As long as he’s at large, we cannot assure the security of anyone on campus.”
The shootings occurred as a group of students were returning from an on-campus cafe. A 17-year-old male student was in stable condition with a wound to the ankle; a female student, also 17, was shot in the abdomen and in serious condition.
University police said they had identified two persons of interest, both students. Both were interviewed and then released, university spokesman Carlos Holmes said on Sept. 22. Police had identified no suspects as of press time.
Like many colleges nationwide, Delaware State improved its crisis-response plan following the shootings at Virginia Tech on April 16, Holmes said.
Administrators at the Blacksburg, Va., university have been criticized for not issuing a warning after two students were killed by Seung-Hui Cho, 23, in a dormitory. A panel found that their inaction might have contributed to the deaths of 31 more people, including Cho, when the gunman continued his rampage inside in a classroom building more than two hours later.
From campus loudspeakers and sirens, to better communication between school and community police, colleges and universities have ramped up their security systems over the summer in response to the massacre.
Many now have systems that send warnings in multiple ways, including eMail, voice mail, text messages, and digital signs in public areas on campus. Alerts also can be sent to faculty and parents.
And though Delaware State didn’t employ such a multi-channel notification system, university officials still managed to get their message out quickly.
“They did a lot of things right,” said S. Daniel Carter, vice president of operations at Security on Campus, a King of Prussia, Pa.-based group that has lobbied for tighter on-campus crime reporting.
“They secured their facilities and kept their students in the securest areas they have.”