Model Programs/Best Practices

Campus, Community Partnerships Strengthen Emergency Response

Location: Florida By Becky Lewis Published June 2015

They say little things mean a lot. Little things like a cup of coffee and a sandwich at 3 in the morning after a traumatic event. A snack brought to you by someone who was snug in bed an hour before, yet responded to a need with "I’ll be right there."

David Perry, chief of the 67-officer campus police department at Florida State University and 2014-2015 president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA), knows about the little things that strong community partnerships can do after a tragedy from firsthand experience. On Nov. 19, 2014, former FSU student Myron May shot and wounded three students studying at the Strozier Library before being killed by police, and Perry, an advocate of building partnerships that strengthen the resources available to law enforcement in a crisis situation, recalls what happened when he called food services vendor Aramark.

"It may sound like a small thing, but to be able to call at 1 in the morning and say ‘we just had a tragic incident and can you provide drinks and snacks for the students still at the library’ and get an immediate response, that was huge. You can’t put a dollar mount on it or even adequately describe what it means to have snacks at the library and in our offices at 3 in the morning, and know that someone made that effort for you," Perry says. "It really underlines what can happen when you keep the lines of communication open throughout the campus and the community. The outpouring of support in general was so immediate it caught us off-guard. It really doesn’t hit you how much the community does support you until tragedy strikes."

Since becoming FSU chief in 2005, Perry has worked on developing those strong campus and community partnerships, and his keynote address at the Mid America Regional IACLEA Conference in Chicago in April 2015 focused on the valuable role these partnerships played in the aftermath of the 2014 shooting.

"We created these partnerships through informal, impromptu meetings, by saying ‘Hey let’s get coffee, let’s get lunch.’ We make sure that the lines of communication are open all the time instead of just calling when we need something. Then, because you have this partnership in place, you have a resource when you need it," he says.

Other resources called on after the FSU incident include the facilities and grounds crew, which performed cleanup, and the counseling center, which alerted Perry to a need to ensure privacy from the media for students seeking services. Because FSU had this strong web of partnerships in place, the university was able to proceed with recovery quickly and with a minimum of red tape, Perry says.

"It all starts over coffee and a doughnut. Coffee and a doughnut garner a lot of support down the road, and it’s good to know who your supporters are and where your assistance will come from long before tragedy strikes your campus and your community," says Perry, who counts on relationships with community partners such as the Tallahassee police, the Leon County sheriff’s office, fire and rescue, and local offices of federal agencies to include the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in addition to internal partners.

Those internal partnerships include one with the library director that Perry credits for saving lives in November 2014: "The library director and I agreed to increase security in the library following a tragic sexual assault six years ago. We incorporated a swipe card system like you might see in a subway at a significant cost, and because we made that change, the shooter couldn’t get into the main body of the library, which is a very open space. Had he been able to get in there, the outcome could have been even more tragic."

Yet another internal partnership between the campus police, IT and emergency management resulted in the creation of FSU’s version of the well-known Staples’ "Easy Button," a yellow box where a single button pulls together 15 emergency warning systems (text messages, emails, sirens, etc.) under one access command. These systems can be triggered in the event of tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, flash floods, severe lightning, a HazMat situation or a law enforcement-designated emergency situation.

Perry calls the FSU active threat training program and the way his officers responded another piece of the success story, noting that his officers responded exactly as they had been trained. FSU provides its own in-house active threat training, and a number of other institutions of higher education, including the University of Chicago, Florida A&M University and Savannah State University, have asked FSU to train their officers.

"I think it’s also important to note that it’s not until a crisis occurs that you get to evaluate leadership. Our president, John Thrasher, had only been here 10 days at the time of the incident, and to be pressed into the national and international spotlight and respond the way he did is great," Perry says. "You can’t ever put too high a price on leadership."