When Cal State Long Beach police learned of an email threatening someone would “shoot up” the university Monday afternoon, they sent out a campuswide alert telling people to take shelter.
The alert said there was a “credible threat” and told everyone to get inside, but it didn’t reveal much else. Nevertheless, many students and professors tried their best to follow the instructions.
Pictures of hastily stacked tables and chairs piled against classroom doors started proliferating across social media. If they happened to be in older buildings or classrooms that didn’t lock from the inside, students and professors used belts, shoelaces and whatever else they could find to secure the doors.
The threat turned out to be a false alarm. The student suspected of making it never had the means or intent to carry it out, according to police. But the scare led some to ask what would’ve happened if there had been a shooter?
Although the shelter-in-place order lasted less than an hour, the fear it incited for students and faculty was palpable on social media and on campus the next day, said Alexis Wolfe, a senior English major. In response, nearly one thousand people have signed an online petition Wolfe started asking the university to “produce locking doors for every classroom and facility on campus.”
“It’s completely unacceptable that a university or any school not have locking doors in this day and age,” Wolfe said.
While she was at home during the threat, her two roommates were both on campus and worried, she said. One roommate said she was in a computer lab and had trouble figuring out how to lock the door.
That sentiment was echoed on Twitter during and after the incident. Lecturer Ragan Fox tweeted that his classroom has four doors and none of them could be locked. With all the desks in the room bolted to the floor, he and his students had to place whatever they could find in front of the doors—including an overhead projector and chairs.
Was teaching my lecture during @csulb active shooter. My room has FOUR points of entry—none of which can be locked. All the desks are bolted to the floor. This is what we had do to protect ourselves. We should have doors that lock and clear protocol for these situations! pic.twitter.com/R6RmD6CqM5— Ragan Fox (@RaganFox) October 8, 2019
University spokesman Jeff Cook said CSULB has been working on retrofitting all doors on campus to have adequate shelter-in-place locks that can be secured from the inside since 2017. But, with some buildings dating back to the 1950s, it’s not always a matter of swapping out hardware, he said. Sometimes the entire door and door jam need to be replaced, which would need to be permitted and inspected by a fire marshal. In some cases it can also involve asbestos and lead paint abatement.
“At first blush it may sound like an easier job to retrofit the doors, but it’s not,” Cook said.
The university has so far spent about $550,000 on the project. The first priority is more lecture hall-type classrooms with a capacity of 60 or more on the first floors of buildings, which will be retrofitted by December, Cook said.
While Cook didn’t have the exact numbers on hand, he said about 400 classrooms in total need to be retrofitted and a little more than 100 will be complete by the end of the year.
The university will have to allocate more funding to retrofit classrooms beyond that. In the meantime, the protocol professors are told to follow is to barricade their classroom doors with tables and chairs, turn off the lights, hide and stay quiet, he said. They can also use belts or shoelaces to tie the elbow-like hinge of a door, said Gary Hytrek the co-president for the CSULB chapter of the California Faculty Association.
Hytrek said the university has been working with the union to address more personnel safety issues, like verbal abuse and school shootings. While there has been progress on the issue of doors locking, faculty bring up the issue to the CFA often, he said.
“We’re told to shelter in place, but how do I lock the door?” Hytrek said. Progress, he said, is much slower than faculty would like.
He also noted that many faculty members are concerned with how information is disseminated in these situations. Many students on social media also complained that they didn’t know what the threat was and weren’t able to prepare themselves.
“Oftentimes what happens is students are picking up from tweets and texts and Facebook,” Hytrek said. “That’s a problem if the information isn’t credible. If you don’t know the threat, you don’t know what to protect against.”
Cook said that it is typical for organizations to only say whether a threat is credible or not and issue instructions to shelter in place.
“These events are fluid, and we’re trying to give the best guidance as we can,” Cook said. “I understand the desire for more specificity, but again these situations tend to evolve.”