On Monday, Sept. 19, Bethel students and faculty received a Timely Warning Bulletin from Campus Safety. The Fun Tan in the shopping plaza north of campus was robbed by an armed unidentified man. The Bethel community was warned to be on alert for the individual. Campus shootings, armed robberies and other crimes are very sadly becoming more common as time goes on. Reports continue to darken television news shows every week. With this unfortunate reality looming, it's a reasonable question to ask: "Does Bethel have a plan?" The Bethel Beacon has taken up this question and sought answers from faculty and staff to see exactly what Bethel would do in an active shooter situation. One such person we talked to is Paul Neel, head of Campus Safety. The Beacon asked Neel if he feels that Bethel is truly at risk for such a situation. "That's a tough question to address," said Neel. "You obviously never want to be complacent about it, but to my knowledge we've never had a direct threat against us, here." Neel did say that Campus Safety doesn't anticipate such an attack, but admitted that these attacks usually don't have anticipation. "A lot of the time, [active shooters] don't necessarily make it known that they will strike," he said, "but there are sometimes signs...I'm a big believer that we don't do anything out of fear, but we need to be smart...The world is a complicated place right now...We constantly mindful and preparing as though it might happen, but hoping that it never does." Neel discussed what a few of these signs might be. One sign is if someone is upset with something that has happened or is going through a rough period in their life. "These are the type of people that we hope we can be mindful of and be planning for the 'big events,'" said Neel. "It all starts with some kind of a grievance. Sometimes it seems almost simple and minute, but really what ends up happening is a small situation causes something much larger." Neel explained that what often ends up happening is what the FBI calls leakage, a situation in which someone starts fantasizing and creating drawings or Facebook posts about wanting to kill or hurt others. They usually go on next to a plotting stage, and finally begin preparation for their threat to become a reality. "Almost all of the active killers of the past 10 years or so have had drawings or something that have been recovered after and have been clear plans to what ended up unfolding," said Neel. Neel spoke a bit about how to prevent these people from carrying out their plans. "Somewhere along the way we hope that people can intervene and pick up on those things," he said. "That's a way for faculty and students to take charge. If people see someone or something that's a little out of place, then say something because it could be that one missing piece and it all adds up. One piece of information could mean nothing, but when you start getting like three or four or five pieces of information, then it could lead to something bigger and we can take action." Neel discussed whether or not they have been present at Bethel and how Bethel had taken preemptive steps to stop individuals from reaching even this early stage. "I can't say that we've ever had a direct [situation] where someone had got to the plotting phase or anything where there's been a risk to the college," said Neel. "Our Student Life staff does a really good job of looking after the kids and caring for the ones that are 'not really fitting in' or 'having a hard time', the kind of folks who typically are the ones [with] the possibility of going down that path. It's not really a science, it's an art. We just have to be mindful along the way." Neel addressed some ways he advises people to act in an active shooter situation that may save lives. "If something were to happen today, [Campus Safety] would push out messages," said Neel. "[Campus Safety] really wants to focus on teaching the 'run, hide, fight’ concept...we really want to teach that whatever people do, they should do that 100 percent. If you can get away, we always say it's better to get away from the threat. If you can't get away, then we say to hide." Another note that Neel made was to make sure your phone is turned to silent and don't be afraid to call 911. "You have to judge in the moment what you think you should do and act," said Neel. " We want to empower people to make good decisions for where they're at." Neel went on, “And if you have to fight, then do/use whatever it takes to take the threat down,” he said. “You have to judge in the moment what you think you should do and act. We want to empower people to make good decisions for where they're at.” Neel stated that there are possible changes that could be made to increase security within the buildings on campus. "We're currently working on ways to fully lock the doors, especially in the [Academic Center]," stated Neel. "In the last 15 years, the world has become a different place and the locks aren't really up-to-date. Make sure your phone is turned to silent and don't be afraid to call 911.” With the addition of the new kindergarten classroom/playground to campus, Neel discussed how it may change the approach to handling an active shooter situation. "We're partnering with them and want to make sure that they get the same notifications regarding situations," said Neel. "They also have swipe-card access to their classroom that can help with security purposes." Neel commented on the possibility of the college installing swipe card access, along with other security measures, on all campus doors. "It could happen, but part of it depends on the professors," said Neel. "Some teach with the doors open while some don't...The other factor is cost. It costs roughly between $1,500 and $2,000 to install that type of security per door with 60 plus classrooms." Neel also stated that there are some less expensive ways such as just changing the locks and the handles of the doors for approximately $100 per door. "That's still a lot, but compared to someone's safety, either way is still not much compared to a person's safety," said Neel. With all of this talk of potential security additions without visible follow-through, Neel addressed whether or not Campus Safety has seen enough budget cuts to prevent these security additions. "We've seen some budget cuts just like everyone else," said Neel. "The whole campus is trying to figure out how to use all of the school's dollars in the best and most efficient ways." We also asked Neel about the tricky issue of arming Campus Safety officers. "It's still in discussion," stated Neel. "The decision stands that at some point in the future we will more than likely arm at least some [Campus Safety officers]."
Neel explained that it's all about the right timing when diving into a situation such as whether or not to bring guns on campus for security purposes.
"We want to try to not instill fear or concern into anyone," stated Neel. "Everyone has different positions on views for firearms. If we choose to arm or not, we will have people who agree and those who disagree."
The Beacon asked Neel what his plan of action would be if arming Campus Safety officers does become a reality.
"The plan that I had originally proposed was having some officers complete the necessary training to getting armed and being able to have at least some people ready," he said, "then move forward with the next group of officers, eventually having at least one armed officer here at all times."
Neel explained that most armed shooter situations nationwide typically take place between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and 2:00 to 3:00 p.m. But at any given moment, people could possibly be at risk due to the surprise factor that is often present with active shooters.
"The question at hand is do all the people involved, from the librarian or student to campus safety officers, have all of the necessary equipment that they need to be prepared and safe, should a situation arise?" said Neel. "We really do take our job as an adoptive 'guardian' of someone else's kid seriously. We don't take that lightly."
In the end, Neel believes that the campus can be safest when everyone from the staff to the students can get along and help out in the process.
"We're trying to make the campus safe and take the most effective route to do that," stated Neel. "In order to create the environment that we are most comfortable and safe, we will often have to work through that process together."