When news broke at about noon Tuesday of a shooting on the Purdue University campus in West Lafayette, some students' parents knew right away. For others, it may have taken minutes or even hours, depending on when they heard or saw news reports.
But officials at local colleges said social media and technology now allow parents to learn almost immediately of an emergency situation on their child's college campus.
“No one is exempt from this,” said Teresa Sordelet, associate vice president of risk management at University of Saint Francis. “There is no campus this can't happen on. So the question is, how do you prepare?”
The first step for many parents should be to make sure their son or daughter gets signed up for emergency alerts from the college, said John Kaufeld, social media director at IPFW and the father of two college students.
At IPFW, students can sign up at www.my.ipfw.edu to receive alerts about emergency situations via phone text, phone call or email, Kaufeld said.
The student also can add in additional phone numbers and email addresses to receive alerts, so students can sign up parents and family members, said Nicole Wilkins, IPFW's chief communications officer.
IPFW's alert system created some confusion Tuesday, however, when some people on it received a text or email stating, "Shooting reported on campus. Bldg Electrical Engineering: Avoid area; Shelter in place. Check www.purdue.edu for updates."
Thirty minutes passed before people received a clarifying message: "Attention IPFW Fort Wayne. There is no active shooter on the IPFW campus."
Saint Francis offers an emergency alert system that is similar to IPFW's. In addition to their own phone number and email, students can put in four or five additional phone numbers to receive text or phone alerts, Sordelet said.
USF students can set up who receives emergency alerts at registration or at any time during the school year, said Trois Hart, Saint Francis' associate vice president of marketing. To do so, they go to the Help Desk on the university website, www.sf.edu, and do a search for “Emergency Contacts.”
At Ivy Tech Community College-Northeast, students, family or anyone in the community can sign up for text or email emergency alerts by going to www.ivytech.edu/alert, said Andrew Welch, executive director of marketing and communications.
Officials at Indiana Institute of Technology could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.
IPFW, Saint Francis and Ivy Tech also use other technological resources to get the word out in an emergency.
Kaufeld recommends parents of IPFW students follow the university on Twitter via @IPFW or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ipfwmastodons.
“We try to put out information as fast as possible,” Kaufeld said.
He often will put out the initial alert on Twitter, where messages are limited to 140 letters or characters in length. He then will direct people to the IPFW Facebook page, which can be viewed by anyone, for more in-depth information.
IPFW also will run a banner across the top of its website, www.ipfw.edu, to alert people to an emergency, Kaufeld said.
Saint Francis will put out information via its website, www.sf.edu, and on social media — @USFFW on Twitter and www.facebook.com/universityofsaintfrancis on Facebook, Hart said. Alerts also are posted on video monitors throughout campus.
If a student, faculty or staff member is held hostage or injured, the university will try to contact the person's family, Hart said. So it is extremely important the university has the most up-to-date contact information on file for parents or appropriate family members.
Ivy Tech also will send out information on an emergency on @IvyTechCC on Twitter and at www.facebook.com/ivytech on Facebook, Welch said. Its North Anthony Boulevard campus also has a public-address system for making announcements.
Local colleges train faculty and staff on how to respond in case of an active shooter or other emergency, officials said. Saint Francis also has provided presentations to students on how to cope with an active shooter situation, Sordelet said.
She said the university learned a lot last October when it played host for emergency-response training by the Fort Wayne Police Department.
In one scenario, a shooter held faculty and students hostage, she said. In the second scenario, a disgruntled job applicant locked himself away and threatened to harm himself.
Sordelet also recommended families think and talk about how to respond to an active shooter situation because it could happen at a mall, movie theater or elsewhere. A number of video and other resources are available to help.