On Aug. 28, 2023, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill experienced a shooting incident in which the campus went into a full lockdown and a faculty member was killed. This was a traumatic event for many people in the campus community. As part of the follow up to the incident, Institutional Integrity and Risk Management is following a standard after-action review process, which includes engaging a third-party vendor to help analyze the incident and response and provide recommendations to inform the University’s emergency response plans moving forward.
To help inform that process, the University invited students, faculty, staff, parents and families to provide feedback on the emergency response and communications through an online portal. The link to a Qualtrics form was sent by George Battle, vice chancellor for Institutional Integrity and Risk Management, in a campus-wide email and forwarded by Student Affairs to parents of students, and it was open to responses Sept. 13-22.
It is important to acknowledge that the campus experienced an additional lockdown within minutes after the email with the feedback portal link was sent on Sept. 13, so some responses may include impressions from that experience, although the questions were focused on Aug. 28.
In the feedback portal, respondents were first asked to identify their affiliation with Carolina and their location during the Aug. 28 campus shooting event. Of the 3,362 completed responses received in the feedback portal, the majority of the respondents were students (36%). 27% of respondents were family members of students, 26% were staff, 9% were faculty and 2% identified as other. Half of the respondents were on campus during the incident (50%). Others were off campus and not local (35%) or off campus and local in Chapel Hill or Carrboro (15%).
Respondents were invited to answer one open-ended question asking them to describe their key takeaway from the experience. The feedback provided in the open-ended comments was thoughtful and consistent, and suggestions for improvements were specific and constructive. Overall, responses to the open-ended question focused on three themes, which are outlined below with the most prevalent suggestions:
Alert Carolina updates
- Send more frequent and detailed updates during the incident.
- Update the “on or near campus” language in the initial Alert Carolina because it was too vague.
- Provide information to parents on how they can get updates during the incident.
- Share more information on the location of the incident and impact as it evolves.
- Make sirens audible in classroom buildings.
- Continue to post the Alert Carolina on the classroom monitors because it was helpful.
Preparedness and training
- Require emergency protocol trainings and drills, especially for faculty and staff.
- Confirm expectations for faculty about continuing instruction in person or online.
- Ensure all doors can be locked and/or windows can be covered.
- Create building-specific plans and emergency protocols.
- Assign trained department contact person to coordinate during an incident.
Respondents were also asked to answer questions in response to the following prompt, “Please rate how useful the emergency communications were to help you make personal decisions for your safety during the incident.” These included rankings for a variety of communications, such as the initial Alert Carolina outdoor sirens, text notification and email notification; Alert Carolina updates and website during the incident; and the Alert Carolina “All Clear” notification.
Of those emergency communications, respondents found the initial Alert Carolina text notification and email notification as well as the “All Clear” notification to be the most useful. 82.8% respondents found the initial Alert Carolina text notification to be useful (includes ratings for moderately, very or extremely useful combined), 71.1% of respondents rated the initial email notification to be useful, and 85% of respondents said the “All Clear” notification was useful to help make decisions about their safety. Responses for Alert Carolina updates during the incident were split. 49.5% of respondents said the updates were not at all useful or slightly useful, and the remaining 50.4% considered them useful.
The remaining communication tools or platforms were found to be less useful in making decisions than the others – the outdoor sirens and the Alert Carolina website. 47.1% of respondents said the outdoor sirens were not useful at all or slightly useful, and 60% said the same for the Alert Carolina website.
The University is grateful to everyone who took the time to give their feedback in this process. The input provided will be used to inform the after-action review process and ultimately identify opportunities for improvements to the University’s preparedness and responses to future incidents.