State News

UNC Officials 'Disappointed' in ECSU's Handling of Emergency Drill

Posted February 26, 2008
Updated February 27, 2008

— University of North Carolina administrators said Wednesday that they have asked Elizabeth City State University to halt any planned emergency drills after a test last week frightened several students and their professor.

An armed man burst into a classroom Friday and threatened to kill students and the professor. The man was a campus security officer, the gun was a toy and the action was part of a drill to test emergency response capabilities, but those in the class said they thought the situation was real.

"The guy comes in, puts the gun behind his back (and) tells us all to get on the floor, to sit against the wall," said Tyler Sykes, one of seven students in the American foreign policy class. "He called out and wanted to know all of our (grade-point averages), and the guy with the lowest GPA got in front of the class. He threatened to kill him or the teacher, and he asked us to pick."

The drill came eight days after a gunman killed five people and himself in a classroom at Northern Illinois University.

Jingbin Wang, the assistant professor of history teaching the class, said the incident felt so real that he was "prepared to die."

"None of us was prepared for it, because of the lack of communication," Sykes said.

Elizabeth City State administrators said they warned students and faculty last week that a drill would take place. About five minutes before the "gunman" entered the classroom, e-mail and text messages were sent across the campus to announce the start of the drill, administrators said.

“This is a test. ECSU is holding a test drill where an armed intruder will enter a room in Moore Hall and be detained by Campus Police,” the message said.

Sykes said he had received e-mails earlier in the week, but he said they weren't clear and concise as to what would happen.

"They never said it was fake," he said. "I'm sure their original intention was not to strike terror into the students, but somewhere along the line, someone charted off course."

Anthony Brown, vice chancellor for Student Affairs at ECSU, said the drill, which ended after about 10 minutes as campus police apprehended the "gunman," helped university officials determine their level of preparedness and note any needed improvements.

"The intent was not to frighten them but to test our system and also to test the response of the security that was on campus and the people that were notified," Brown said in a statement.

Chancellor Willie Gilchrist said the drill was a learning lesson for all involved.

"It was a learning experience beyond table-top experiences where every person knows what is going to happen next. Unfortunately, we learned lessons from frightened students that result when live scenarios are carried out," Gilchrist said in a statement.

Gilchrist called Wang to apologize. Wang said he hasn't been able to teach since Friday.

Grief counselors were on campus Tuesday to help students traumatized by the incident.

UNC system administrators said that they were "disappointed" in how Elizabeth City State handled the drill and that the school needs to improve its communication procedures.

"We are evaluating planning for this drill. We are trying to assess what worked and what did not work," Harold Martin, the UNC system's senior vice president for academic affairs, said in a statement. "(We) have asked the campus to put a halt to any additional planned drill that they have developed, particularly in light of Virginia Tech and NIU."

Last April, student gunman Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students at Virginia Tech. That shooting has led schools to examine their emergency plans and conduct safety drills.

Elizabeth City State student Travis Hubbard said he supports the school's effort.

"I feel like, if (the drill) could save the life of at least one person, it's neccessary," Hubbard said. "It kind of makes you think about it. It actually could happen. Who's to say that it couldn't happen here?"

18 Comments

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  • Through a glass darkly Feb 28, 2008

    "If the instructor saw the e-mail earlier and had a problem as to when it was to occur, why didn't he/she ask?" Do you know what the email said? Did it say there was going to be an actor terrorizing a classroom? Or, was it a generic, 'we will be testing our response'.

    What would have happened if the instructor or a student has tried to (violently) disarm the assailant? Would the cop have allowed himself to be beaten up, or would he have injured someone?

  • Justin T. Feb 28, 2008

    Shocking display of recklessness. A drill is supposed to be performed to raise awareness and condition the public. Normally, a few announced "dry runs" are done to be sure everyone is educated in the way things would theoretically operate... then a surprise drill is performed to test people in an unaware state. You don't just pull a gun on a classroom full of kids and see what happens.

    Staging a reality show stunt like this very dangerous in a post 9/11 society.

  • Seeminglyopposed Feb 28, 2008

    Everyone is got an opinion on how bad this went. It is unfortunate that real killers don't give you a chance to read your e-mails, or not get prepared. If the instructor saw the e-mail earlier and had a problem as to when it was to occur, why didn't he/she ask?

    Some people are never satisfied until the gunman is at our doors, and then the responses, would be they should have done something to prepare our schools. Go figure!

  • hdonthefarm Feb 28, 2008

    Kind of makes you wonder what kind of education these kids are getting when you look at the quality of administration on this campus.

  • Through a glass darkly Feb 28, 2008

    NCSU did a test of their text message system. From what I gather on this site, it took about 10 minutes for the word to get out. That means that a 5 minute warning may have never made it, even if some students had their cell phones on.

    This is one of those cases where serious consideration should be given to firing several people.

  • EverythingTicksMeOff Feb 28, 2008

    There appear to be a number of blunders in how this was handled. First of all, emails and text messages sent 5 minutes before the drill started? How were the students in class supposed to view these emails and text messages? Were they supposed to interrupt the class and all get out their cell phones and check their messages?

    Also, what good was this excercise if the campus police knew it was happening? It can't test readiness if they know it's coming. And if they don't know it's coming, some over-eager campus cop could have shot the pretend gunman. What if some student were carrying a gun in his backpack just for a real incident like this, in response to the NIU shootings? He could have shot the pretend gunman.

    And what if some sicko decided to get ready for an attack, knowing that there was going to be a drill? What if he waited for the 5 minute warning text message on his cell phone and then started shooting, crying out "this is a drill!"?

    Jeez, this is amazing..

  • ScreenNameNotInUse Feb 27, 2008

    This kind of drill screams of what happened a few years back at what I think is a military exercise called Robin-Sage ??? where a police officer killed one of the participants. Truly, those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it. Thankfully that adage was not proven to be true this time.

  • blackdog Feb 27, 2008

    ...ECSU is lucky the incident didn't turn tragic. A pencil jammed into the carotid artery will stop a gunman. Not all students and professors are sheep...This exercise was poorly conceived, not thought out, reckless, and without repute, stupid.

  • NCbred77 Feb 27, 2008

    "I bet they will read their email from now on. How does an entire class not realize what's going on?"

    Maybe some of them did know and purposely didn't tell the others to get a kick out of their reaction.

  • redant Feb 27, 2008

    counseling 'ell - show him the money

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