CWU Survives Poor Communication During a False Alarm Active Shooter

On February 6, 2019 Central Washington University’s campus was under the threat of a possible active shooter. After careful examination of buildings and evacuating students, the University police reported that all of the buildings have been secured and the campus is safe and all-clear.

During the incident, I was trying to follow what was happening on the Kittitas Public police scanners and Twitter in order to stay the most accurately informed. Social media was blowing up with university alerts, false accusations, and concerned parents. One tweet turned into thousands. Lind Hall was actually trending at one point.

Although social media is not the best place to get news, I follow the actual university social media accounts, along with local news affiliates. Both of which I believed to give me the most accurate information about what was happening on campus.

It turns out, CWU has a lot of communication skills to work out if an incident like this ever happens again. Once the all-clear alert and social media post went out to the public, I assumed that all buildings had been deemed safe, but that was not the case. Many students, staff, and faculty were still held up in a multitude of academic buildings that had yet to be cleared by university police.

If you have ever been in a mock scenario of an active shooter or another type of incident, you know that it is protocol to wait for police to clear you out before it is safe to leave. The students still stuck in classrooms did not know if they should leave or stay put. If some of them had stayed, they may still be there right now.  

The university police did a great job in making sure campus was safe, but they did not communicate very well with those putting out the alerts to the public. It would have been safer for the university to send out more alerts about the incident, rather then leaving the public in the dark for a few hours. This led to false claims and rumors on social media, which spread like wildfire.

Rumors are not information, they just end up creating more problems. They can actually be very dangerous because people will read them thinking it is true. They can also lead to people doing dangerous things and being more paranoid than means necessary.

While this was a false alarm and no suspect was found, many students were shaken up by the idea of this happening on our campus. Ellensburg is one of the safest towns you could ever be in, but that all changed Wednesday night. A false alarm could have been the best possible outcome for CWU. I hope that the university can learn from this experience and adjust their crisis communication plan to better prepare for the possibility of next time.