Op-ed: NUPD’s active shooter response was not “timely”

File Photo by Meghan McVeigh

Ilana Gersten, contributor

Safety at Ruggles is a cause for concern for many students, but those fears were validated Oct. 31 when a shot was fired at 3:15 p.m. in Ruggles. Northeastern students did not find out about the shooting until a mass email with the subject line “Timely Warning- Shooting in Ruggles MBTA Station” was sent out at 4:34 p.m., an hour and a half after the incident. A second email was sent out at 9:25 p.m. issuing a correction that there was no victim, contrary to the first email.

While Ruggles is not officially a part of Northeastern’s campus, students commonly use it as a walkway from main campus to Columbus Avenue. It was a massive shock to students casually checking their email when they received word from the Northeastern University Police Department, or NUPD, that a shooting occurred in the station. 

The university has an emergency alert text system, which is tested every September. Why was this system not used when there was a gunman practically on our campus?

NUPD did not handle this incident correctly. It is more damaging to the students to receive this information later. This type of incident sends some places into a lockdown, yet NU simply sent a warning email almost two hours later with recommendations on how to be more aware of your surroundings. There was no reason for those on campus to find out about the issue so far after it occurred when NUPD has the resources to keep students informed.

Another issue with the original email was that it said the suspect escaped. If a suspect escaped, it was even more vital that NUPD inform the campus because that means an active gunman was on campus and the police did not have eyes on him. Even though the email said the suspect left in the direction away from campus, those on campus should have known, as they could have reported a possible suspect. To this day, NUPD still has not released that the suspect is now in custody, forcing students to turn to local outlets for this information. 

Even in the aftermath of the initial late response, NUPD still failed to keep campus informed correctly. The first email claimed that there had been one victim. Later, in an email sent out at 9:35 p.m., NUPD backtracked on that claim, stating that there had not been a victim at all. How does NUPD initially report a victim that never existed? And most importantly, why did it take five hours from the initial email for NUPD to issue the correction, taking six hours in total to relay the correct information? 

As a concerned student following this incident, I researched NUPD’s protocol in the event of an active shooter incident. When searching for protocol for active threats, the first link directs you to accent and communication training from Bouvé College of Health Sciences, although it’s labeled “Active Threat (Northeastern University Police Department).” To find the relevant information, students must search directly on NUPD’s site, which still has limited information. NUPD’s website states that you should call its emergency number immediately if you see someone with a gun. Then it recommends that you follow the general “fight, hide, or run” protocol. This information is at the bottom of the Emergency Planning section of NUPD’s website with no additional information. Along with this, the Emergency Management Guidebook provided by NUPD does not mention active shooter preparedness at all. The only thing close is an “active threat.” It is important that students know what to do in an emergency, but there is currently not a way to find such information. 

NUPD’s response to this issue was not timely and did not prioritize students’ safety. There is no legitimate reason for why NUPD waited to inform students of this threat. The need to not cause panic is understood, but in attempting to do that, NUPD only created fear and uncertainty among the students. It is even insulting to those on campus to know that NUPD considers a “timely warning” to be one and a half hours. It is not clear to the students why these actions were taken, but it is clear that these actions led only to paranoia, frustration and distrust in NUPD. If something like this were to happen again, NUPD needs to quickly and accurately inform campus. 

Ilana Gersten is a first-year journalism and political science combined major.