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today was scary

28 October 2010

Though in the end no one was hurt and no one was ever in danger, there was about an hour today when I was scared, for myself, for my husband, and for everyone else on the Texas A&M campus. At 4:02PM, the following message was sent via the Code Maroon Emergency Notification System:

Sighting of armed subject at Rudder Tower. SEEK SAFE SHELTER until further notice. 4:00p

Of course, I didn’t get the notification at 4:02pm. I was sitting at my desk until 4:22, when I decided to drive to main campus and turn in an application a day early so I wouldn’t have to fret about dealing with it tomorrow. Yes, I checked my email before I left (it’s a mania of mine), and yes, my phone was on and set to the vibrate/sound mode. And, yes, I had previously signed up to be notified via the Code Maroon system.

Nonetheless, I had absolutely no idea that I was taking myself to what at the time was believed to be a more dangerous part of campus (compared to our far satellite building safely tucked in the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library complex).

When I got to the Coke Building, where the Dean’s Office is located (where I was hand-delivering a grant application), I wondered why the elevator wasn’t coming down to the ground floor. I felt silly for not taking the stairs, so sheepishly walked over to go up the stairs. When I got to the top of the stairs, a young woman, propping a door open asked me, “You know we’re on lock-down right?” To which I simply replied, “no, I’m here to turn in my application to Mike Stephenson?” She asked, “Do you want to come in with the rest of us?” And I just said yes and followed her.

I grabbed my phone to see if any alert had come through. It hadn’t. I tried calling Josh (also on campus, also near the building where the suspected gunman was spotted), no answer. Sent him text messages, no response. I tried opening my laptop to see if I could get a wireless signal to send him an email (in case he’d left his phone at home). No signal. The young woman (I’ve learned now that her name is Rebecca) offered to log me into a workstation. I went online to send Josh more text messages (my cell phone battery is now failing) and to see if email or Facebook are options for reaching him. No luck.

I check Twitter for updates, and learn of snipers (good guys) on Kyle Field. At this point, I still hadn’t received an email from the Code Maroon system.

Then, an email came from the director of the Becky Gates Children Center (where the mini-me goes), saying that because of the Code Maroon alert that the children will be staying indoors and will be accompanied until whenever parents can get there. A few minutes later, I get the actual Code Maroon alert, almost 45 minutes after it had been “sent.”

By then a second Code Maroon alert had gone out (but of course, I had not received it either via phone or email — I learned of it by going to the Code Maroon web site):

4:34pm. No armed subject found at this time. Police are still searching. Continue to shelter in place. Bus pickup to exit campus- GO TO LEWIS ST BEHIND DUNCAN DINING HALL

Unsure what to do and watching everyone else in this office decide to leave (so we were never really “locked down?”), at about 5:30pm, I elected to go with a group to get back to my car and get off campus. At the time (and even now) I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do. Anyways, I left, got in my car and drove straight to the daycare to get the mini-me. Josh finally calls as I’m driving there and I tell him to stay put and not walk to his car until he hears the all-clear.

By the time I get home I see (online, not via text or email) the final Code Maroon message:

All Clear. Person with replica weapon identified. No danger. Resume normal activity. 5:34

So, yes, I was incredibly grateful that there was never any danger and that many of us took caution and there was a system in place to tell us what to do. But, good grief! That system is broken. If we have learned anything from Virginia Tech, and even more recently at our near neighbor school UT-Austin, emergency notification systems should work as quickly as required by an emergency. The lesson learned for me is that I will no longer rely on Code Maroon via text/email. If ever there was a situation that made the case that I should get a smartphone that allows me to get online — where the real information (and some fake information) was — this was it.

The local paper has the story, if you want to know more.

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