One year after a murder-suicide at USC’s Arnold School of Public Health, university officials are confident the campus community is better equipped in case of a similar incident, spokesman Wes Hickman said.
Many University of South Carolina buildings have been made more secure, more emergency management staff has been added to operate the alert systems, and USC quickly got rid of a limit to the number of emails it could send to students over the course of an hour, Hickman said.
The school also has made a number of other changes aimed at improving campus safety, but Hickman said the process of evaluating and making improvements never stops.
“The second you learn one thing, the bad guys may learn something else,” Hickman said. “So you’re always having to develop. You’re always staying vigilant.”
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The USC community was thrown into panic last Feb. 5 after some students received text and computer alerts of gunfire at the school.
In a lab inside the downtown Columbia building, USC professor Raja Fayad, 45, had been shot and killed by his ex-wife, Sunghee Kwon, 46. She then shot and killed herself.
But to concerned parents and many in the campus community, it was unclear for hours whether any students were involved in the incident, whether it had happened in a classroom and for at least an hour, whether there was an active shooter still on campus.
Social media went ablaze with rumors as the building on Assembly Street – a main city corridor – was swarmed by USC police, U.S. marshals, federal Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive agents, Richland County deputies, Columbia police and SLED agents. Several city blocks nearby were shut down.
USC found in an internal review released in August that its response to the incident was appropriate.
But the review, submitted to USC President Harris Pastides by USC’s director of strategic planning, Cameron Howell, acknowledged “occasional technical failures in timely and reliable communication to the University community” and said improvements were being made.
Among the problems with USC’s response, the report said, were errors in some of the Carolina Alert notifications, a limit on how many emails the university could send in an hour, a failure to deploy emergency alert sirens and the failure of the USC online homepage to reflect the emergency status during the crisis.
The report said the “greatest lessons” of the incident “are that more participation in emergency-preparedness training is needed at USC and that technological capabilities enabling speed and reliability of emergency notices must be improved.”
The changes made after the shooting mostly reflect the report’s recommendations.
▪ Just a day after the shooting, USC got rid of the emails-per-hour limit, Hickman said.
▪ USC added more emergency management staff to operate the alert systems and added more outdoor sirens, Hickman said.
▪ USC made more emergency preparedness training available for students, faculty and staff, including a course on active-shooter response, Hickman said. He said USC encourages students to use those resources but that the training is not yet mandatory. USC has more than tripled the number of community safety bulletins distributed by USC’s Division of Law Enforcement and Safety, Hickman said.
▪ USC has encouraged students to sign up for Carolina Alert emergency notifications and to list their emergency contacts with the university, Hickman said.
▪ USC officials conducted about a dozen building assessments on campus, determining which buildings or areas needed technology or infrastructure improvements, Hickman said. Access card readers, security cameras and better lighting were added to vulnerable spots, he said.
▪ Officials developed emergency plans for certain buildings so people there would know what to do during an incident, Hickman said.
▪ The Carolina Alert system has been adjusted so emergency notifications appear automatically on the online homepage and no longer need to be manually input.
▪ Though USC’s online homepage did not crash during the crisis, the university expanded its technology infrastructure to ensure the website can handle spikes in traffic, Hickman said. USC also set up a “fail-safe site” that would appear in case the main website crashed, he said.
Timeline of the murder-suicide at the Arnold School of Public Health on Feb. 5, 2015.
12:50 p.m.: Raja Fayad is shot and killed by his ex-wife, Sunghee Kwon, in his office at the Arnold School of Public Health. She then turns the gun on herself.
1:16 p.m.: The University of South Carolina sends a Carolina Alert notification stating: “SHORS (sic) FIRED AT NEW SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH. Seek safe shelter.” Not everyone gets the alert.
1:22 p.m.: The State Law Enforcement Division is notified of the shooting by campus law enforcement, according to SLED spokesman Thom Berry.
2:15 p.m.: USC sends out a Carolina Alert saying there was no longer a threat on campus
2:27 p.m.: SLED spokesperson Berry tells reporters, “There was no active shooter other than the two deceased.”
5:15 p.m.: The State newspaper reports online that the victim was Fayad and that he had been killed by his ex-wife.
7:37 a.m. Feb. 6: USC President Harris Pastides tweets, “The sun is out this morning. Let’s honor Professor Fayad with respect. Show someone that we care. Hold a Gamecock’s hand today.”
11:09 a.m. Feb. 6: Richland County Coroner Gary Watts publicly identifies Fayad as the victim. He does not identify the shooter until later that day.