Beginning in February, Knox County Emergency Management (KCEM) and the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KSCO), in coordination with the College, hosted mandatory active threat training sessions for faculty and staff members at Kenyon for the first time. And for some faculty and staff members, these sessions were a shocking reminder of how quickly a normal day can turn tragic.
“They showed this movie where this man approached and gunned people down at point blank range,” Marcella Hackbardt, professor of art, said. “And again, we knew ahead of time … he prefaced it, but to see it like that. It’s like, ‘Oh my goodness!’”
The active threat training sessions are just one aspect of a wider push by the College for greater preparedness during potential emergencies. Last year, the College formed the Kenyon Emergency Planning Team (KEPT), which includes a number of faculty and staff members who meet bi-weekly to discuss how Kenyon can improve its readiness for potential emergency situations — such as weather events, power outages and potential active threat scenarios.
The training sessions, known as “RUN. HIDE. FIGHT.,” were hosted by Mark Maxwell, a KCEM employee, and KCSO Captain Jay Sheffer. The sessions began with a video produced by the office of the mayor of Houston, Texas, which focused on what steps to take during an active threat situation and how to ensure the safety of vulnerable students.
Provost Joseph Klesner said the main goal of active threat training was to prepare the faculty for any theoretical situation, even if it is unlikely to occur. He said about 60 percent of the faculty attended the four training sessions. Many faculty members could not make the session due to scheduling conflicts, according to Klesner.
Maxwell said Kenyon is part of a group of schools and organizations in Knox County, including Mount Vernon City Schools, Knox County Career Center, Mount Vernon Nazarene University and local law enforcement, that have started participating in a monthly working group that meets with KCEM and the KCSO to discuss how they can improve emergency preparedness.
This year, the College established that the basement of Eaton Center would operate as the command center for emergencies on campus, so the College could manage communications during a potentially dangerous situation. Kenyon has also coordinated emergency exit plans for the buildings on campus with the Village of Gambier and the Gambier Fire Department.
Kenyon students may already be noticing the increased attention to emergency preparedness. Last Tuesday, Ascension Hall had a fire drill — the first one in an academic building in four years. Although the College has plans for emergencies, the administration often has trouble finding time for drills across campus.
“While we have a substantial Kenyon Emergency Management plan, we haven’t really done simulations very often,” Klesner said. “Obviously, they take time, they’re disruptive, but we’re committed to doing more … so should anything, god forbid, should happen, we can be prepared.”
On April 6 and 8 next week, Campus Safety will give a presentation to the Community Advisors (CAs) that will include supplemental information to general emergency training they received at the beginning of this semester. At the training session earlier in the year, CAs had to navigate Mather Residence Hall while it was filled with artificial smoke to simulate a fire.
Klesner said the College is working toward offering more emergency training for students in upcoming years. The steps the College is taking now are preliminary, but he hopes they will keep the campus protected in any theoretical situation.
“Things have changed in the world,” Klesner said. “And we have to ask ourselves, what are the priorities, what are the actions we can take to stay safe?”
Sheffer is glad to see that Kenyon, along with the rest of the community, is taking the proper steps to prepare themselves for any situation. In recent years, he believes many have been affected by a false sense of security in Knox County, but believes people are becoming more cautious.
“We’ve been behind the 8-ball as far as the community goes,” Sheffer said. “We’ve never really planned or prepared for an active threat. So getting everybody on board to do that is important. Everybody had kind of the blinders on … but anything is possible here.”