False alarm at Webster Library raises concerns about Concordia’s emergency preparedness

The University’s response to a perceived weapons threat at the Webster Library gave rare insight into Concordia’s security protocols

On Friday Oct. 28, Concordia University issued a shelter in place order at the Sir George Williams Webster Library after the University was notified about a potential weapons threat in the building. Although later determined to be a false alarm, the experience has left many questioning the effectiveness of Concordia’s emergency response protocols.

The incident followed reports of an individual in a face mask allegedly wielding a weapon at the Webster Library late that afternoon. In response, the University initiated a standard “shelter in place” protocol at approximately 4:18 p.m. Emergency messages were broadcast through the University’s emergency notification system requesting students remain in a secure location until further instructions were provided.

Clothilde Vaillant, a third-year finance and international business student at JMSB, told The Concordian she arrived at the library with a friend roughly 15 minutes before the incident occurred. Vaillant recalled being unsure of what to make of the emergency broadcast.

“We were like, oh, what’s happening?” said Vaillant. “We asked the table next to us because we thought it was a test, like in high school.”

Once Vaillant and her friend realized the incident was not a test, they decided to head towards a nearby study room where about 20 other students were hiding. Vaillant believed they would be able to secure themselves inside the study room, however once inside she realized the study room’s door was unable to lock.

“Everyone was laughing in the room,” said Vaillant. “Like how can we lock the door if the door doesn’t lock? I don’t understand how they can really ask us to go into a safe place if we can’t close the door.”

Before panic set in, Vaillant recalled that a police officer entered the study room and reassured students that the situation was under control.

The SVPM confirmed with The Concordian that officers arrived at the library shortly after the shelter in place order was indicated. According to police spokesperson Raphaël Bergeron, officers at the scene were able to confirm the incident was a false alarm after consulting with eyewitnesses and checking video surveillance at the library.

Concordia proceeded to lift the “shelter in place” order shortly after and released a statement confirming the incident was a false alarm at 5:38 p.m. that same day. The entire incident lasted no longer than 15 minutes.

The false alarm at Webster Library has raised many doubts among Concordia’s student body about the effectiveness of the University’s emergency response protocols.

Marc, a second-year commerce student at JMSB who wished to remain anonymous, was on the fifth floor of the Webster Library when he heard the broadcast begin. He stated that he felt caught off guard during the shelter in place order.

“I was terrified, to be honest with you. I had a hard time sleeping that night because I was running through scenarios in my head,” said Marc.

According to Concordia’s Campus Security and Emergency Services, the purpose of the emergency broadcast is “to advise the campus community as quickly as possible that a dangerous situation is unfolding.” For this reason, messages used in emergency broadcasts often contain little to no information about the specific incident.

For many including Marc, this is a major oversight in Concordia’s emergency procedures and should be addressed moving forward.

“I think what’s most important would be to let people know what the danger is because it’s impossible to predict what to do in a scenario where you don’t know what’s coming,” said Marc.

When asked if the University could do anything to help students better react in possible future emergency situations, Marc was skeptical that anything could accurately prepare students for such scenarios.

“But being there, [at the Webster Library] I saw that no one knew what to do. So the reality is, even if there was a protocol, it’s so difficult to train someone to do everything right.”

Photo by: Lily Cowper


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