Stevenson 'shooter' incident sheds light into security concerns at schools

OWINGS MILLS, Md. - Within a span of three hours,  nearly 100 safety officials from multiple agencies  descended on the Stevenson University campus.

Maryland State Police, Baltimore County Police, Stevenson security and Baltimore County Fire personnel all had one mission at the Owings Mills campus: Determine if there was an active shooter.

After a three-hour lockdown, the incident was deemed to be two men with a pellet gun.

No one was injured. Doors were unlocked. Students were allowed to go home.

As active shooter situations become more frequent across the country, safety officials at Stevenson have taken notice. Being prepared for an intruder or an active shooter was magnified Wednesday following the mass shooting at Fort Hood in Texas.

For more on Fort Hood, check out the story here.  

Parents at the KIPP Academy in Baltimore understand this as well following Thursday’s lockdown situation at the school.

Since 2000, Stevenson leaders have continuously spent money on  planning, education and security to ensure their campus is safe. They consider Monday’s situation a successful  test on their emergency readiness.

“You can’t exist today without talking about this,” said John Buettner, spokesman for Stevenson. “It’s a top priority here.”

Stevenson officials would not provide specifics as to how much of their budget goes towards security and safety education. 

In statement, officials said, "no one rests on their laurels in the field of campus safety and security—you must always look at what works and what can be enhanced for future responses."

Buettner said the key to safety starts with education. With 4,000 students and employees, a campus campaign was launched two years ago, encouraging people to report suspicious activity.

“We have a method on campus,” Buettner said. “If you see something suspicious, say something.”

That’s what happened Monday afternoon when two students suspected they saw a person with a gun roaming their Owings Mills campus.

Once the message was relayed to Stevenson Security, the director made the decision to send out a text a massive alert via text message and email.

He then ordered a lockdown, which he has the authority to issue.

To ensure safety, Stevenson implemented “around the clock” security to patrols on all  three of its campuses. Employees are also equipped with handbooks detailing how to react in a multitude of situations, from active shootings to suicide attempts.

This past year, campus officials also included an instructional video on what to do in the event of an active shooter. Students and teachers are also trained on through orientation and yearly presentation on mass shooting safety.

Despite the attempts, some safety experts say schools are putting too much emphasis on training for an active shooter scenario and neglecting other types of emergency situations.

“Active shooter scenarios account for less than five percent of all fatalities in schools,” said Michael Dorn, executive director of the campus safety nonprofit Safe Haven. “A student is more likely to be killed from getting run over then a gun.”

Dorn said that when active shooting incidents happen and lives are lost, people want a quick solution, many times ignoring what methods work the best to prevent it from happening again.

“It’s an emotional issue,” he said. “Instead of focusing on practices that work, many people decide to go with quick solutions that might not have the best outcome.”

For best practices, Dorn recommends that schools invest in training scenarios that allow educators to make decisions, instead of waiting for commands from a supervisor.

He added that when it comes to funding, higher education tends to lag behind public school systems.

“I see this as a setback as K-12 schools can receive more funding when needed,” he said. “With a limited source, it’s important to invest that money into best practices. This doesn’t always happen.”

Baltimore County Police Department spokeswoman Elise Armacost said the police response to the emergency at Stevenson is a testament to how prepared law enforcement is for these types of situations.

“We responded quickly and effectively,” she said. “Our goal was to investigate whether there was an active shooter. Luckily that wasn’t the case.”

Armacost said that when it comes to active shooter situation, each one is different. Police have to be trained to go on with an open mind and react on a moment’s notice.

According to the Baltimore County budget, in the last few years, police have requested more funding to assist with policing county schools.

“It’s the relationships that help get through these situations,” Armacost said. “It’s something we continue to grow.”

Buettner said the next step to promote campus safety is to create a video for students on tools they can use to respond to a shooter situation.

“This idea started earlier in the semester, and we will be working on it this summer,” he said.


CORRECTION | An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that KIPP

Academy was located in Baltimore County. ABC2 News regrets the error. 

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