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Ohio State attack: Local schools prepared in case violence strikes

Violent attacks on campuses such as Monday’s at Ohio State University have unfortunately become so common, that most universities, including those in Palm Beach County, have plans in place to deal with shootings or other horrific incidents.

Following the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, there was a nationwide change in approach taken by law enforcement in which first-responding officers were trained to seek out and engage “active shooters” instead of waiting for back-up. According to the Homeland Security website, an active shooter is “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.”

The suspect in the Ohio State incident was shot and killed by law enforcement after he plowed his vehicle into a group outside a campus building before attacking them with a butcher knife. Nine people were injured, one of them critically, according to published reports.

Florida Atlantic University spokesman Joshua Glanzer said Monday the university’s police department proactively messages about safety and security and works on awareness education throughout the year. “We do not wait for an incident like the one today to educate students, faculty and staff,” he said.

At the beginning of the fall semester, FAU’s police department launched “FAU Guardian,” a free mobile app that turns any smart phone into a personal safety device, Glanzer said.

Whenever students, faculty or staff at FAU connect with campus police from their mobile phone, the app automatically delivers a complete caller profile — including current location, medical conditions, course schedule, addresses, campus ID photo and other critical data. The user can request one or more “guardians” to virtually walk with them on or off campus. There’s also a panic button which allows users to contact campus police immediately.

Palm Beach Atlantic University Dean of Students Kevin Abel, who also chairs the crisis management team, said, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families at Ohio State University. Whenever something like this happens on a college campus, it does provide us with an opportunity to revisit our plans as an institution.”

PBAU’s campus safety office conducts ongoing training for PBAU faculty, staff and students. One message that is emphasized is “if you see something, say something,” Abel said.

“If something looks out of place, we want our community to speak up. We want them to call our security staff,” Abel said.

PBAU also embraces active shooter alert training response promoted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security called ALICE for alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.

In the wake of Monday’s attack, Jeff Zito, president of the OSU Palm Beach County Alumni Club, said he was texting and emailing with friends and family in Ohio on Monday morning and was glued to the TV and Internet trying to find out if everyone was safe.

“Needless to say, our thoughts and prayers are with our Buckeye friends and family in Columbus. We are just very thankful for all of the first responders who prevented the situation from being much worse,” he said.

“It is unthinkable that things like this can happen especially after we had such a great football weekend with the win over our rival and the Thanksgiving holiday in which we have a ton to be thankful for. To us, The Ohio State University is one of the greatest places in the world and this will only make the Buckeye community stronger. I would just like to thank all of South Florida for thinking of the Buckeye community during this tragic time,” Zito said.

The last reported shooting at a Florida university occured in November of 2014 when a former Florida State University student shot and injured three people inside the university’s library before he was gunned down by officers.

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