Campus Security Examined At Phillips Academy

After the Virginia Tech shootings, the issue of safety has flared up on campuses across the nation. Phillips Academy has prepared for emergencies with detailed plans for a variety of specific situations, including a sniper on campus, suicide, and natural disasters. The Disaster Response and Recovery Plan (DRRP), updated in 2006, organizes risk management using the Incident Command System. The first priority of the plan is protecting lives, and the second priority is protecting property. In an emergency, Head of School Barbara Chase would act as Incident Commander. The Incident Commander selects members of the community to help make decisions about how to respond to a given situation. As Mrs. Chase found out more details, she would call in whoever she believed had the necessary skills to devise and implement a response to the situation. In many situations, the Andover Police Department would take control. PAPS has called the Andover Police to deal with recent incidents, including an intruder on campus and people in cars throwing things at students. PAPS also works with police officers to respond to most crimes, according to Mr. Conlon. PAPS officers do not have arresting power, but in a disaster situation they would work with the police as much as possible. Mrs. Chase would continue to inform and instruct the community, while the police would be more involved in the actual crisis. If a severe situation arose, like the a shooting or hostage situation, the Andover Police would call in a tactical team from the North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council (NEMLEC), according to Mr. Conlon. NEMLEC enlists manpower and resources from 43 police departments in Essex and Middlesex Counties to create a regional support system. Phillips Academy Public Safety (PAPS) Manager Thomas Conlon expressed his confidence in Andover’s preparedness for a shooting. “I think through our Disaster Response and Recovery Plans, the tabletop exercise we’ve done, the Shelter-in-Place we’ve done, I’m confident that the situation will be planned for. The Andover Police Department is forever in training…along with the NEMLAC team,” said Mr. Conlon. NEMLEC’s Regional Response Team includes Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) and School Threat Assessment and Response System (STARS) Units. NEMLEC officers have specialized skills, like dealing with shooters in schools, negotiating in standoffs or hostage situations and forcing entry into buildings. As a regional resource NEMLEC has more capabilities than local police or public safety departments. NEMLEC is equipped with automatic weapons, explosives, armored vehicles, night vision goggles, electronic fingerprint collection and transmission devices, and DNA testing mechanisms. Currently, the NEMLEC control chief is North Andover Police Chief Richard Stanley. NEMLEC responders are stationed in Andover as well as nearby towns like North Andover, Methuen, and Lawrence. Phillips Academy has used tabletop exercises each of the past four years to practice reacting to specific scenarios. In these exercises, information about a hypothetical emergency situation is released gradually to make the situation as realistic as possible. The DRRP is a tiered system in which the primary responders are Incident Managers, consisting of senior administrators. Depending on the situation, Mrs. Chase would contact the appropriate Incident Responders to help her devise or implement her plan of action. Incident Responders include Deans and other administrators, chaplains, the Head of the Athletic Department, and members of the Food Service and Technology Departments. Head of the Department of Human Resources and Risk Management Deborah Martin noted that tabletop exercises help maintain relationships with the town of Andover in addition to providing an opportunity to practice the DRRP. During the times when Mrs. Chase is off-campus, a list of administrators outlined in the DRRP determines the acting Incident Commander. Associate Head of School Becky Sykes and Chief Financial Officer Steve Carter follow Mrs. Chase on the list. On weekends, a duty officer deals with everyday safety issues. The Head of School’s Office notifies the Phillips Academy Public Safety (PAPS) department when Mrs. Chase is off-campus. Community leaders are also kept up to date on who the Incident Commander would be at a given time. Only Incident Responders have a copy of the DRRP, and are familiar with the detailed plans. However, each department at Phillips Academy has information on how to respond to certain emergency situations. While the DRRP organizes school-wide disaster response plans, House Counselors have a crisis management protocol. This details exactly how to respond to various high-risk scenarios, such as suicide attempts or bomb threats. “It should be reassuring to students that we’ve been working on [the Disaster Response and Recovery Plan] for years,” said Ms. Martin. “I’m really proud of what we’ve done,” she continued. The DRRP operates under recommendations of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Incident Command System is a protocol that both state and local police departments use in crisis situations.