State News

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

Posted February 26, 2008 11:21 p.m. EST
Updated February 27, 2008 7:44 p.m. EST

— 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?"