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Weekday mornings on Michigan Radio, Doug Tribou hosts NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to news radio program in the country.

Before shooting, MSU trailed other Michigan campuses on some security features, survey finds

Students on campus at the University of Michigan.
Paul Sancya/AP
A mourner leaves flowers at The Rock on the grounds of Michigan State University in East Lansing on Feb. 15. Since the mass shooting on campus that killed three people and left five wounded, MSU has announced plans for a number of security changes. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Two of the Michigan State University students who died in the mass shooting in February had been attending a class in Berkey Hall.

The gunman came into the classroom and shot them. He then left that room, but the professor teaching that night, afraid the shooter would return, went to the classroom door, squatted down and clung to the handle because the door could not be locked from the inside.

Since the shooting, Bridge Michigan has surveyed colleges and universities statewide and found that many had already implemented some common, basic safety measures that were not in place at MSU, including inside locks.

Michigan Radio's Morning Edition host Doug Tribou discussed the survey's findings with Bridge Michigan data reporter Mike Wilkinson.

Doug Tribou: Bridge sent a survey to many schools in Michigan and heard back from more than 20 of them. Let's start with the inside door locks. Since the shooting, MSU announced plans to add those types of locks to the school's 1300 classrooms before the fall semester. But how far behind is MSU on locks when it's compared to other campuses?

Michigan State has announced it will install locks to allow 1300 classrooms to be locked from the inside.

Mike Wilkinson: The universities largely have added those features to many of their classrooms, if not most. At Oakland University, they added them back in 2018-19 at the request of the faculty. But you also have them at [University of Michigan] Dearborn, [U of M] Flint, Saginaw Valley [State University], Central Michigan [University], most of the community colleges. Even the ones that don't have it universally, a lot of them are in the process of adding them.

Would it have stopped the shooting of Berkey Hall? Maybe not, but there were other people in that building who, once the shots fired, tried to shut their doors and could not.

DT: There's another type of locking that's become a common security feature at colleges. What did you learn about systems that allow campus security to lock down buildings remotely?

MW: Well, a lot of these buildings, because you have keycard access to the exterior, there is this function where the whole building can be locked down from afar. At Grand Valley State University, there's four buttons in their police stations where you hit those buttons and every exterior door on campus is locked.

There were a number of buildings in community colleges that are smaller that have that feature. And more [colleges], including Michigan State, hope to add that feature. They were already in the process of completely upgrading their security system. They had a bid out for syncing all of their cameras together, but it hadn't happened at the time of the shooting.

DT: Well, let's turn to the video cameras. Video cameras at Michigan State eventually helped police find the shooter. They got an image, published it, and soon got a tip about his location. But the process could have been less time-consuming. What were the challenges for police during that process and what are other schools doing differently?

"[S]chools have decided that there are ways that they can harden their locations. But it's kind of hard, at times, to avoid someone who has such evil in their heart that they want to do this."
Bridge Michigan reporter Mike Wilkinson

MW: Almost every campus has cameras, both inside and outside of buildings. If there's a crime is committed, they can go back and look at them. But in most cases, a lot of the universities told us they could watch the videos in real time. Michigan State said that they were not capable of doing that. Other schools have a greater capacity. But Michigan State is hoping very soon to upgrade it so that they can have that ability to just dial in on a specific area, specific threat and monitor it.

DT: Mike, pulling back, a lot of these changes seem somewhat simple or logical, but do we have a sense of how effective they would be in the event of a campus shooting?

MW: Let's look at the Virginia Tech situation, for instance. You had an assailant who ultimately killed 32 people, wounded another 17. [He] kept going into rooms and out of rooms and going back into rooms and out of rooms. If there were locks on those doors, perhaps he doesn't go back in for the second shooting after that attack. And other schools have decided that there are ways that they can harden their locations. But it's kind of hard, at times, to avoid someone who has such evil in their heart that they want to do this.

A lot of campuses have the ability to close a building down, but it's still a public building. Most of them are open while there are classes going on, and Berkey Hall is one of them. Now, the university is going to limit the hours of buildings that are open. But you can understand why it was open because there was a class and they were trying to learn.

Things are going to change and things have changed, but it is going to be expensive. A lot of schools have to make choices and they're spending money on these things rather than other features, maybe lowering tuition or scholarships.

DT: As you note in the article and as we've reported here on Michigan Radio, there is one Democratic state representative who's proposed a $100 million fund for campus security upgrades across the state. We'll keep an eye on whether that plan ends up winning approval in the Legislature.

Thanks a lot for your time.

MW: Thank you.

Further reading: "Michigan State shooting: University lacked security common on other campuses" by Mike Wilkinson of Bridge Michigan.

Editor's note: Quotes have been edited for length and clarity. You can listen to the full interview near the top of this page.

Doug Tribou joined the Michigan Public staff as the host of Morning Edition in 2016. Doug first moved to Michigan in 2015 when he was awarded a Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Katheryne Friske is the weekend morning host and producer for All Things Considered.
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