Letter to the editor: Incident on campus was safely handled

The events that occurred Monday on the Iowa State University campus resulted in a tragedy — the loss of a young life.

For reasons we don’t know and may never know, a young man drove recklessly through Ames and on to campus, ignoring police attempts to stop him. He placed many more lives in danger. Law enforcement acted swiftly to stop the threat and prevent further loss of life. Three minutes after the driver blazed through campus in a stolen truck, shots were fired by Ames Police and the incident was over.

Three minutes.

Yes, it was over and done with before most people even knew what happened. Police will tell you this is the reality of many emergencies. In a dynamic, quickly evolving situation, police have to make quick decisions to protect the community. Their first priority is to stop the threat. Officers on the scene did just that.

Police knew immediately after the shooting that there was no ongoing threat. But they needed to secure the area and verify what had occurred at the scene. They needed to know what happened before they could tell you what to do about it. That takes time. It isn’t a failure of the ISU Alert system as some have suggested. It’s reality. Police are the experts on the scene and determine when, or whether, to send an emergency notification based on the issue at hand. We trust their judgment.

It would have done no good to provide students, faculty and staff with an incomplete ISU Alert message, such as “shots fired,” with no actionable steps. As soon as vital information was available, ISU Police authorized the alert, knowing the message would reduce fear and limit the spread of rumors. I fully supported that decision.

There have been inaccurate, unfair and speculative notions about how Monday’s situation parallels that of an active shooter on campus. It doesn’t. These are two distinct incidents that would be handled differently as was done in this case. There is no script for an emergency. Had there been a shooter on campus, the ISU Alert system would have been activated along with the outdoor warning system that provides an immediate voice warning to community members.

We encourage all faculty, staff and students to log into AccessPlus and check their delivery preferences for ISU Alert messages. You may receive messages via email, text, voice — or all three methods. Email is the most rapid delivery method, generally reaching all 38,000+ contacts within one to two minutes of the message being sent.

As with any campus emergency, university officials will assess our response to this incident and act on lessons learned. For example, we discovered for the first time on Monday that the ISU Alert message went to the spam folders of some student email accounts. This is unfortunate and unexpected, and we don’t believe it’s happened during any of the 20 or so prior uses of the ISU Alert system. But we’re glad to know about the problem, and we’re addressing it. Information Technology Services is working with Google to resolve this issue and ensure ISU Alert email messages don’t wind up in spam folders again.

The safety of ISU students, faculty, staff and visitors is paramount, and I hope you know how seriously we all take that responsibility. We are thankful for the work performed by law enforcement officers, dispatch and support staff in dealing with a situation that was thrust upon us. We’re also grateful to community members who were in the immediate area on Monday and allowed police to do their work. People were compliant, took protective measures and spread the word to others nearby.