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Editorial | MIT gunman hoax presents opportunity for re-examining safety procedure

Published: Monday, February 25, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 08:02


The threat of a possible armed person on a college campus is always tricky to deal with. Of course, every single threat should initially be taken seriously, but there is a fine line a college or university needs to toe while dealing with lockdowns, informing the university populace in a timely and appropriate manner and determining the validity of a threat. 

After the scare that came from Saturday’s report of a gunman on MIT’s campus (later revealed to be a hoax), it is time to once again re-evaluate Tufts’ policy on active shooters in terms of student safety and the role of the campus police in the process.

Reports or threats of an active shooter present campus police with many tribulations, all of which can be avoided. During the MIT hoax, it took almost an hour for students to be informed, which would have left the student body seriously at risk if the situation had proved to be a real threat. While ultimately, the report of a gunman was uncovered to be a hoax, had the situation gone the other way, (without proper information at their disposal), MIT community members could be at risk. It should be noted that MIT and the Cambridge police’s used social media outlets such as Twitter by live-tweeting about the situation. 

However, MIT’s next move — locking down the campus — could’ve caused mass panic. Therein lies the dilemma: Threats or reports of an active shooter must be treated with caution, but with the possibility of a hoax, it is important for campus police to strike an intricate balance between an appropriate response and a panic-inducing one. Take, for example, 2010’s gun-wrench incident on the Medford/Somerville campus, which caused campus-wide anxiety in the short term and outrage at campus police for stereotyping and making assumptions about an African-American male. There should always be a sensible equilibrium when it comes to information provided to students here at Tufts. There must be an immediate response to students with information deemed valid to the protection of the campus and nothing more until after the incident. 

As for students, it is crucial that everyone refresh themselves on the proper drills and procedures for an active shooter, but beyond that, each student must realize that threats should be treated with gravity unless later information indicates otherwise. Students have a responsibility to make informed decisions when it comes to reporting to the police. As more and more information comes to light about the nature of the faux report at MIT, highlighted the importance of safety on Tufts campus. Let’s take a look at the way we evaluate threats today, not until after a tragic event. Let’s view the MIT hoax as an unfortunate but teachable moment and recommit to our security and welfare on campus.

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