Alerts delayed for several hours after shots fired

By Alice Haymond

Between the hours of midnight and 4 a.m. yesterday, people on campus woke up to messages from the UK Alert system about a shooting at Greg Page Apartments that happened hours earlier.

UK Police received a report of the incident at 7:37 p.m. Wednesday. The Office of Emergency Management sent its first alerts at 12:34 a.m.

When police arrived at the scene, they received conflicting accounts of what happened, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton. That was the first of several factors delaying the alert message to the campus community, he said.

It was reported that three men and a woman went up to the apartment door of the woman’s ex-boyfriend, said Maj. Joe Monroe, UK’s interim police chief. The ex-boyfriend and ex-girlfriend had an argument about 30 minutes before that, Monroe said.

The ex-boyfriend shut his apartment door when one of the males with the woman revealed a handgun. Witnesses heard two shots fired, but no one was hurt. The occupant of the apartment and the suspects are students at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, and one of the suspects, a juvenile, was identified last night, Monroe said.

It was not until about 9 p.m. that police had confirmed that shots were fired during a fight involving several people, Blanton said. At that point, they notified UK’s Office of Emergency Management, which sends out the alerts.

The office’s director, Christy Giles, drafted a message with UK Police to send out through UK Alert, complete with full descriptions of the suspects, Blanton said.

“Had this been a situation where there was an active shooter, we would have had the message out in a few minutes,” he said.

But because it was an isolated incident, Giles and the police took time to give a more complete account, he said.

Ronald Stephens, the executive director of the National School Safety Center, said the first step in handling an emergency is always verification before notification, but sometimes administrators should consider the value of immediate notification.

“To wake people up at four in the morning, that doesn’t engender a lot of good will,” he said. “You do want to send out warnings, but is it a crisis notification, or just some good information? If it’s just information, it’s probably not all that critical, and you can share that information at an appropriate time.”

Alerts about the tornado warning Wednesday morning reached about 4,000 students within 30 minutes from when the warning was issued. But facts about incidents involving people, like the shots at Greg Page, take longer to confirm than weather emergencies, said Ron Garrison, who provides training and consultation on school safety.

Delays in emergency notification usually improve with time, he said. Since UK launched UK Alert Jan. 14, he said the response seemed very smooth to him.

“Those are the real world dilemmas that you’re always going to face,” said Garrison, the school safety consultant and litigation support specialist at Garrison Associates in California. “And yes, safety is sometimes inconvenient; I mean, look what we go through at airports — if that’s not inconvenient what is?”

Although the shots at Greg Page did not pose an imminent threat, it was still something that people on campus should know about, Giles said.

“Because there were shots fired, obviously that warranted an alert to the campus community,” Giles said. “Within a couple of hours of me getting the information, the alerts were going out.”

The initial alert reached about 6,000 people, a 65 percent success rate, up slightly from a 61 percent success rate during the tornado warnings Wednesday morning.

Giles also sent out a separate message to about 1,300 parents with 100 percent success.

When she realized 2,100 people on campus had not received the initial alert of the shooting, Giles resent the message to that group at 2:57 a.m.

By early morning, the alert reached 7,300 people, about 99 percent success rate, Blanton said.

“We have several thousand people receiving information that they never would have before,” Blanton said.

The alerts were given a 2-hour limit to reach their recipients, so some could have received a message or phone call close to 5 a.m. yesterday, nine hours after the shots were reported.

Giles suggested people consider situations like last night’s when they choose whether they want to be contacted by a phone call, a text message, an e-mail or various other communication methods during an emergency.

“They need to think about how they want to be notified,” she said. “We can’t predict when an emergency is going to occur. They have to decide whether they want to take those calls in the wee hours of the morning.”

UK police are still looking for suspects from the incident at Greg Page.

One man was described as an 18- to 19-year-old black male with shoulder-length black hair, according to a UK news release. The other two men at the door were described as 18- to 19-year-old black males, and one had a black goatee.

Anyone with information regarding the incident can contact UK police at (859) 257-1616.