In the summer of 2012, Tom Conlon, Director of Public Safety, was directed into the basement of an unfamiliar building at Milton Academy where he was attacked by two shooters. Though the attacks were staged as part of a drill, Conlon’s alarm was real.
At a moment’s notice, he and ?ve other safety of?cers had to strategize an emergency response. Conlon and the others ran into a room with no lock on the door. He could hear a commotion at the top of the stairwell. The faux shooters ?red multiple shots. As the shooters approached, one participant lost his composure, curling up into the fetal position and hiding under a shelf.
The others remained calm, however, barricading the door as quickly as possible. The shooters jostled the door, but could not break through. Though Conlon and the team had passed the test, they had gotten lucky—the barricade worked against all odds. Conlon now understands that there should have been a lock on the door.
Ever since the December shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Conlon and the Phillips Academy Public Safety (PAPS) of?ce have been working to improve safety at Andover. Drawing upon knowledge from the training program at Milton Academy, the PAPS team has kept all secondary doors to campus buildings locked since the beginning of this year’s Summer Session.
Last Friday in an interview with The Phillipian, Conlon relaxed in the Public Safety building next to Graves Hall. In the comfort of his of?ce, he did not wear his trademark cowboy hat, but he maintained his characteristic warmth.
“We have to put people’s safety as the paramount,” he said.
“The locking of the exterior doors in a timely manner provides the ?rst line of a defensive barrier against a shooter. In most cases, the shooter moves on until a door is found that provides easy access,” wrote Conlon in an e-mail to The Phillipian.
In addition to locking doors, Conlon sent a school-wide e-mail on October 7 with instructions on reacting to an active shooter. PAPS also held a practice lockdown on October 10. By making campus buildings easily securable and increasing awareness of emergency situations, Conlon and the Public Safety team hope to improve campus safety.
Lockdowns also prepare students for more than just an attack by a shooter. “A shelter in place could be because of a weather emergency… We had tornado warnings this summer at the start of Summer Session… as kids were arriving,” said Conlon.
Conlon said that campus members have reacted well to the changes. “The response has been very positive about what we’ve been doing here, to try and help out in case of an eventual emergency around campus.”
However, several students have not accepted the locked doors so readily. As their usual routes around campus have been altered, they have had their reservations.
“Why do I have to walk all the way around Sam Phil because I can’t get in through the side or back door?… [Shooters] can still get into all the buildings,” said Alec Tolentino ’ 14.
These locked doors not only cause irritation—they strike fear in the minds of other students. Sarah Cornelius ’14 said, “What if there’s a shooter that is outside and you’re trying to get into a building for safety and there’s only one way you can get in? That seems scary to me.”
With negative views so widespread among the student body, some predict changes. “I think [Public Safety] will get so many complaints that they may open more doors back up,” said Drake Danner ’14.
Although Conlon understands these struggles, admitting that even he has had to change some of his typical routes around campus, he said that he has no plans to unlock the doors.
“I think you have to plan for the worst and hope it never happens. And although I don’t think it would happen up here at PA, nothing is guaranteed 100 percent anywhere,” said Conlon shortly before opening his of?ce door and departing.
_This article was written for English 514: Journalism and submitted to_ The Phillipian.