Security updated, but safety remains in students’ hands

Columbine High School. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Without thinking twice, we all know what these places have in common. They are only a few of the many locations across the country where school shootings have happened in the past 15 years. In light of these shootings, students may wonder how safe we are on this campus.

Recently, St. Olaf has seen several changes to make the campus more secure. Over the past two years, St. Olaf has equipped all custodians with portable radios to enhance communication between residence halls. The number of buildings on campus that require card access has increased, a total re-keying project has been undertaken and more campus lighting has been put in place.

Simple things like taking the handles off the doors to the basement of Old Main and permanently locking one of the doors into Dittman are part of a bigger plan for safety as well, as they decrease the number of entry points to control, said Peter Sandberg, assistant vice president for facilities. He noted that “all of the residence halls can be locked electronically now … within seconds of a report of a potential shooter.”

These changes are not a direct result of the discourse surrounding gun safety and the recent Sandy Hook shooting; rather, they are part of a much-needed update to the college’s security systems, according to President David Anderson ’74.

“The safety of our campus community has been a focus for many years,” Anderson said. “We continue to think about it and work on it.” The college has developed specific emergency plans for numerous situations and has trained key staff members in these operations. The plans cover “everything from someone with a gun to a tornado or to a power outage,” Anderson said.

Many of the plans for emergencies like this can be found on the school’s website. St. Olaf also has an Incident Response Plan in place that is based on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Incident Management System.

In the event of an actual emergency, the plan is as follows: “We would call 911 and report the incident, begin a lockdown process, notify the community, assemble our Critical Event Response Team and block or screen access to the campus,” Director of Public Safety Fred Behr said.

“We have worked for several years in developing our emergency operations plans and an active shooter is included.” Behr also noted that Public Safety is not armed and would thus rely on the Northfield Police to fully neutralize the threat.

As for the official policy for having weapons on campus, Behr said, “Only licensed law enforcement officers are permitted to carry weapons in campus buildings.” The Minnesota Carry law allows guns to be stored in cars in campusparking lots by students who possess a permit, but they are not allowed inside campus buildings.

To keep weapons out of residence halls and students’ cars, Public Safety is in control of a secured room where students can store weapons used for hunting or target practice.

“These weapons can be checked in or out 24 hours a day, but each person has to provide a government-issued ID,” Anderson said. “Most of the ‘weapons’ currently stored with Public Safety are archery equipment.”

While many precautions have been taken to keep students safe on campus, all those interviewed stressed the importance of being aware and looking out for others.

“Students must realize they are about 80 percent responsible for their own safety,” Behr said. “Trusting your instincts and caring for each other will go a long way in promoting safety on campus.”

Sandberg agreed and said, “We live in the real world, even though it’s easy to talk about our ‘bubble.’ It is important to be aware of our surroundings, here and everywhere we go.”

In order to keep abreast of campus emergencies, students are encouraged to sign up for Ole Alerts, an emergency notification system that sends text messages to Oles’ phones in case of a campus emergency. “We have about 1,400 students, staff and faculty signed up for this emergency alert system, but I am hopeful that we [will get] that number up to over 2,000,” Vice President of Student Life Greg Kneser said. “This not only helps in the unlikely event of a violent incident, but for something much more likely, like a tornado.”

To sign up for Ole Alerts, go to to create an account.