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Utah schools evaluate, update safety procedures in wake of campus crimes

Published: Thursday, Dec. 26 2013 5:10 p.m. MST

The Orem Police Department in conduction with Utah Valley University's Emergency Management conduct an "active shooting" drill at UVU's Browning Administration Building on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

OREM — On Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 4:30 p.m., a man with a shotgun entered the administration building of Utah Valley University and opened fire.

Utah Valley University police officers responded immediately and were soon joined by members of the Utah County Metro SWAT team and the Utah County sheriff's office.

By 4:35 p.m. the man had been neutralized and officials proceeded to evacuate students and faculty members while performing a sweep of the building.

The man was a police officer, his shotgun loaded with blank rounds, and the incident was part of a planned simulation to prepare law enforcement officials and the campus community for an active shooter event.

"We may not ever be fully prepared for something like this, but we’re commited to being as prepared as possible, and this exercise was a step in that direction," UVU spokesman Chris Taylor said.

Over the past several years, UVU has worked at updating its security procedures and staging a number of drills, Taylor said, part of a push by President Matthew Holland to increase school safety.

Drills, like the active-shooter simulation, have been conducted. Mandatory training has been implemented for campus employees, and Taylor said a staff position of director of emergency preparation and risk management has been created to provide coordination.

"This is just the beginning," he said. "It’s something we need to continue to build on and continue to reinforce the culture of safety on campus."

UVU is not alone in turning a proactive eye toward school security. In the wake of recent headline-grabbing school shootings and campus crimes, schools across the state have re-evaluated and updated policies aimed at protecting the lives and property of students and staff.

The issue of school safety extends to all levels of education, from preschool to college and university campuses. One year ago, a shooting at an elementary in Newtown, Conn., grabbed the nation's attention and prompted discussion on protecting children and preventing violence.

But since then, more than 20 shootings have occurred on school campuses in the United States, including an incident at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in April that left a campus police officer dead and is believed to have been perpetrated by suspects connected to the Boston Marathon Bombing.

Also in April, an object that appeared to be a pipe bomb was found by a maintenance worker on the roof of Mountain View Elementary in Layton, forcing an evacuation.

One month later, North Davis Junior High School in Clearfield was evacuated after authorities received a call claiming a gunman was in the building.

The information proved false, and a 13-year-old student was taken into custody, but not until students had evacuated the building with their hands in the air under the watch of armed policemen and spent the school day huddled out of sight.

Davis School District spokesman Chris Williams said school and law enforcement officials reacted to those incidents by reviewing response policies and updating security practices.

"I think part of what happened at North Davis Junior High has helped us," he said. "It was a chaotic situation and there wasn’t a command center established by the police. That’s one of those training items that the police have talked about, no matter what happens there has to be a command center established."

Williams said the district met with the chiefs of police in Davis County to create a standard response protocol, which provides a uniform procedure for officials responding to any school safety situation.

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