Student Government town hall addresses Pitt’s plan to improve ENS communication


Ethan Shulman | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt police chief James Loftus speaks at a town hall in the William Pitt Union about last week’s hoax active shooter threat.

By Madison Dean, Senior Staff Writer

Police Chief James Loftus opened the Student Government town hall by addressing the hoax active shooter incident on April 10 and the delayed ENS response that followed. Loftus shared that while Pitt and City police cleared both Hillman Library and Mervis Hall by 12:02 a.m., a message was not sent out to students until 12:37 a.m. 

“As I said before, publicly and privately, that’s my fault,” Loftus said. “That’s my responsibility. That rests with me and a number of things contributed to that, but the lack of cohesive information was a big one.” 

Student Government Board, the Graduate Student Government Board and the College of General Studies Student Government Board hosted a town hall Monday night in the William Pitt Union to address the University’s Emergency Notification System, evacuation and lockdown protocols and their response to the recent active shooter hoaxes on and near campus

In a statement, SGB said it’s “concerned” and “disappointed” by the University’s failure to notify students of the hoax “in a timely manner” and wants to hear “concrete measures” the University plans to take to improve campus communication and safety. 

At the town hall, Ted Fritz, the vice chancellor for public safety and emergency management, said the main difference in ENS messaging in the future is that they will provide enough detail about a situation to better inform students. He provided an example message that would alert students about police responding to an unconfirmed active shooter and to avoid the area. 

Fritz added that Pitt is testing out ENS messages through small subgroups and Pitt IT is working to review the system technology. He also said dispatchers and supervisors of ENS will receive additional training. 

“I can tell you that we’ve reengaged all the dispatchers and the supervisors in training by sending out the ENS messages,” Fritz said. “We have already started testing that. So, we have three 24/7 shifts at the Pitt police. All those shifts, and all those supervisors on those shifts, need to be prepared to do this.” 

When addressing the University’s decision to provide certain resources for students after last week’s hoax incident, Provost Ann Cudd said classes likely would have been canceled if the hoax was a “credible situation,” and that canceling classes for this event “was not the right approach.” 

“Think about all the different kinds of classes that are going on campus, many of the students in those classes had no experience like yours,” Cudd said. “I grant that everybody in this room had such an experience, but there are many students, graduate students, professional students, people who, you know, were not even in Pittsburgh during that day, who had no such experience. So why would we cancel for everyone when only, you know, a small number of the students by comparison with 30,000 students were actually affected?” 

Cudd referenced past bomb threats at the University as an example of Pitt’s precedence for not canceling classes. 

One audience member asked about evacuation procedures and lockdown protocol for students with disabilities, specifically students who use wheelchairs. Scott Bernotas, vice chancellor for facilities management, said Pitt’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety can prepare personalized plans to help students with disabilities “wherever they anticipate being” in the event of an emergency. 

Loftus echoed Bernotas’ statement and said while the University has some plans in place for students with disabilities, it’s working on improving them. 

“I think the number of individual evacuation plans that we have on file, it may be comprehensive, it may not,” Loftus said. “But we’re going to, and we are, marketing very heavily so we don’t leave anybody behind. 

Many student audience members shared their experiences the night of the hoax active shooter incident with the panel. One student said the “radio silence” after students fled from Hillman Library is not an act of a “competent university.” 

Loftus replied that although he is ultimately responsible for the delayed messaging, supervisors and dispatchers must wait for “total information” during these incidents. 

“Everything was changing as they all do in these situations, and still I’m not offering that up as an excuse,” Loftus said. “I’m offering that up as a backdrop to what occurs.” 

Some students also expressed discontent that Cudd was using her phone during the panel, calling it “disappointing.” 

“Provost Cudd, I’m honestly very disappointed in you … I can tell that you’re looking down at your phone and I’m very disappointed. I don’t know what you’re doing,” Lucas McDonald, a senior political science major, said. “You know, you’re not giving us eye contact and I’m disappointed in you … but you know, I’d like to see that you’re paying attention and you’re taking us seriously because everyone else on this panel is.” 

Cudd addressed the complaints about her phone usage during the panel, saying “I was on my phone looking at the study spaces that we are just now trying to roll out. I wanted to see what the URL was for that.”

Student organizers ended the town hall by sharing demands compiled by SGB president Danielle Floyd and Ben Wainwright, the vice president of the ACLU club, on behalf of SGB, organizations and students. These demands included receiving detailed messages from ENS that are opt-out instead of opt-in, providing greater disabilities accommodations during campus emergencies, committing to the renovations of older classrooms that need internal locking capabilities and providing more active shooter training to students, staff and faculty.

“What we’re going through is unheard of, and I truly hope that there’s some change in our nation for how we are addressing this issue,” Floyd said. 

After the event, student audience member Sean Robinson said although the panel “touched on” student concerns, it’s important to see if the University will follow up on the demands called for safety. 

“The problem is action takes time, and people I think are just genuinely scared, understandably so. I think we’re gonna be in a really weird situation for a little bit until we actually see if change occurs, and if change doesn’t occur, I don’t know if there’s a lot we can do,” Robinson, a senior molecular biology major, said.