Security expert slams Vanier College response to campus scare

Hal Newman, whose daughter attends the school, calls for improved emergency procedures; Vanier’s director general promises a review.

Fears that there was an active shooter on campus proved to be unfounded. Dario Ayala / Montreal Gazette

A security expert whose daughter attends Vanier College says the school needs to work on its emergency communications after rumours swirled on Thursday that there was an armed person on campus.

Hal Newman, a resident of Stanstead, said he was receiving Facebook messages from his daughter saying part of the building was locked down and there were fears of an active shooter.

He said his daughter was still shaken up at the end of the day from the scare — which turned out to be unfounded.

Vanier director general John McMahon said a female student received a potentially threatening photo on social media, and reported it to college security at 10 a.m. He said the school contacted Montreal Police, which came to the CEGEP to investigate.

Montreal Police Constable Andrée-Anne Picard said a 21-year-old man was arrested Thursday afternoon in relation to an investigation into threats on campus, and then released. She said the investigation is continuing.

While the school has said repeatedly there was never an active threat, there was no communication from the college during the hour that police were on the scene — and the rumour mill took over.

“Social media being what it is, people started sending messages across the campus; we were in a situation at that point when we were assessing and we were working quickly to assess,” McMahon said.

“We don’t want to send out messages prematurely to tell the community that everything is fine until we have assessed properly.”

He said if there had been an active threat there would have been a lockdown of the entire campus within minutes.

While he said he’s happy with how the incident was handled, McMahon said the school is reviewing its procedures and will make adjustments if it is deemed necessary.

Newman, who runs a firm that specializes in preparing emergency preparedness plans, said he believes the school should have communicated to its community when it became clear some students and teachers were terrified.

“Even after we heard from the college that everything was fine, we were still getting messages from our daughter that it was total confusion at the school,” Newman said.

He was critical of the fact that some security guards and teachers appeared to instruct students to stay in locked classrooms even when there was no general order for a lockdown.

“I am sure they have an emergency notification plan. I suggest they dust it off and run some exercises, and get some student involvement,” Newman said.

“On a human basis, I feel for them. It’s terrifying when your community is threatened, but the bottom line is I hope they get this better, and involve the whole community in executing their plans.”

McMahon said the college will send a letter to the student body and its wider community outlining what happened and why the administration acted as it did, and outline the measures the school already has in place to deal with emergencies.

He said the incident “provides us with the opportunity to reflect,” and the school will review how it reacted.

“If there is anything that can be improved in terms of communication or reaction or response, then we need to do that, and we will do that.”

McMahon added the college had already planned to introduce regular lockdown drills in the near future, and he believes that will help clear up confusion in the event of another incident.


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