Strengths, areas of growth identified in external review of 2019 UNC Charlotte shooting response

New report released on deadly UNC Charlotte shooting

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - An external review of the response to the 2019 deadly shooting at UNC Charlotte identifies strengths and areas of needed growth at the university.

The campus tragedy happened on April 30, 2019 when a shooter opened fire in a university building, killing Riley Howell and Ellis Reed Parlier, while injuring Rami Alramadhan, Sean Dehart, Emily Houpt and Drew Pescaro.

That shooter was sentenced to prison with two consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.

The International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) and the National Police Foundation (NPF) conducted the external after-action review and submitted their final report to Chancellor Philip L. Dubois on June 15, 2020.

The review focused on four primary areas, including leadership, relationships, and preparedness - crisis communication - threat assessment and mental health, resilience, and recovery.

The report indicates there was no prior information available that would have allowed UNC Charlotte to identify the shooter as a potential threat or prevented the tragic events.

“I want to make clear that knowing this fact does not lessen the pain of losing Reed and Riley, nor erase the collective fear and grief our community experienced,” Chancellor Dubois said.

The review states the first UNC Charlotte police and public safety (PPS) officers arrived on scene within four minutes of the shooting. The shooter, who was still in the classroom, was arrested within minutes of their arrival, the review states.

The report goes on to state that campus leadership quickly responded to secure the campus, a campus-wide lockdown, communication with the campus community, and preparation for other ongoing campus needs.

Though the campus-wide lockdown was appropriate, the external review indicates there were no articulated parameters for declaring the campus safe or ending the lockdown. The review also indicates that command and control of the response was transferred from UNC Charlotte Police and Public Safety to CMPD without advance coordination of certain decisions. As a result of the prolonged campus-wide lockdown and lack of unified command, the review indicates that inconsistent directions were provided to students and staff who were released as buildings were cleared, and coordination of student transport to the family reunification center and the dissemination of information was limited.

Other challenges identified in the review included UNC Charlotte’s additional mutual aid agreements (MUAs) with local emergency response agencies, and more detailed delineation of roles and responsibilities in its existing MUAs. This points to the fact that UNC Charlotte personnel had limited training with their mutual aid counterparts prior to the incident.

Even with that being the case, the review emphasizes that “local agencies responded heroically to support PPS on April 30, 2019, and provided invaluable assistance during the incident. As Chief Jeff Baker noted at the press conference held following the incident, ‘[T]here isn’t one agency who didn’t respond to our needs on campus.‘”

The review says clearly defining and assigning roles and responsibilities will enhance the effectiveness and efficiencies of important emergency response operations and processes.

Since the incident, the review states that campus leadership played an integral role in setting tone for recovery and building resilience. UNC Charlotte officials placed an emphasis on learning from the incident and supporting the mental health and wellbeing of UNC Charlotte community.

The assessment team commended UNC Charlotte’s efforts to plan and execute messaging around the incident, related memorials, and anniversaries, and to provide counseling services to the UNC Charlotte community as the university made extensive mental health support to students, faculty, and staff, both on- and off-campus.

“UNC Charlotte has developed and maintains a culture of learning to continually improve the organization,” the review reads.

The external review recommends UNC Charlotte to develop additional procedures and training opportunities for employees, aware of and practiced in their roles and responsibilities in an active shooter situation, work with local emergency response agencies to develop detailed MUAs, and conduct regular joint training exercises, develop additional policies and processes to minimize the extent and impact of campus-wide lockdowns and continue to make ALICE active shooter training available to all university faculty, staff, and students, considering additionally offering basic psychological first aid training.

For crisis communication, the review recommends the university to further clarify communication roles and responsibilities in a crisis, and developing backup plans for situations in which communicators are not immediately available.

The report also urges UNC Charlotte to review and update its protocols, tools, standard operating procedures, and training related to threat assessment, and expand training opportunities to include additional employees.

For mental health support, the review suggests the university should begin transitioning to a long-term plan for supporting victims, families, witnesses, first responders, and other relevant stakeholders - as well as considering providing long-term on-campus mental health services and resources for faculty and staff to supplement its existing Employee Assistance Program.

Based on the external review and the university’s own internal review and reflection processes, UNC Charlotte has made and continues to make updates to its public safety planning and preparedness.

Chancellor Dubois, working closely with Chancellor-elect Gaber, outlined his recommendations for the next steps the university needs to take in response to this report.

  • Reviewing and revising Emergency Operations and crisis communication plans as appropriate;
  • Additional research for further strengthening the University’s ability to identify, assess, and manage campus behavioral and threat-related concerns;
  • The development of an ongoing campus resilience plan with particular attention to supporting the campus community’s mental health needs; and
  • A review of training programs for employees and students, including active shooter response.

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