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The Daily Tar Heel

Some faculty say unclear protocol led to continued instruction during lockdown


UNC senior Isaac Williamson worked during a communications class in Phillips Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 12.

When Nicholas Law, a professor in the UNC Physics and Astronomy Department, got the emergency Alert Carolina message on Aug. 28 warning of an armed and dangerous person on campus, he said he thought the University was telling faculty to continue teaching.

“Without an explicit instruction to lock down or shelter in place, individual faculty were left to guess what we should do,” Law said in an email statement. “That’s especially the case given there actually were explicit instructions to do other things (stay away from windows) in the alert.”

An undergraduate student in Law’s class, who requested to remain anonymous, sent an email to UNC Emergency Management and Planning describing emotional classmates texting loved ones while answering Poll Everywhere questions on their computers, about 10 minutes after the alert was received.

“All this was going on while we were under an active shooter alert with the doors unlocked to one of the largest lecture halls on campus,” the student said in the email.

In an email to The Daily Tar Heel, Law said he received the emergency Alert Carolina message around 1:03 p.m. At around 1:08 p.m., after Law says he received more information on the nature of the situation, he said he locked classroom doors and, shortly after, ceased instruction.

Law said via email that he wished the initial text alert had been clearer about the protocol for locking doors and stopping instruction during an active threat. Law, who grew up in Great Britain, said he hadn't received active shooter training prior to arriving at UNC, where he has participated in “a couple of presentations at faculty meetings.”

Some faculty and students speculated that miscommunication and lack of training were the reasons some professors continued teaching during the active situation on Aug. 28.

“As with any major incident or emergency on campus, the University will examine our policies and procedures and determine if any changes need to be made,” UNC Media Relations said in an email statement. 

Media Relations also said that, although there is no policy that requires faculty to pause instruction during an emergency, it is “recommended.”

While many faculty members immediately stopped teaching after receiving the alert, others continued with course material or sent Zoom links to their students to begin class online. 

“I realized there was something wrong when my friends were texting me, ‘Hey, I'm still in class, and the professor is still teaching,’” third-year UNC law student Ed Kellermann said. 

While in lockdown at the Kathrine R. Everett Law Library with other students, Kellermann took to TikTok to document his experience.

“Half the classes have been pushed back to Zoom, half have been canceled,” Kellermann said in the viral video.

The video now has 1.5 million views and hundreds of comments, including some from other UNC students sharing stories of continued instruction and other experiences from the lockdown. UNC law professor Eric Muller also commented to express his condolences to students for the “chaotic response and lack of communication.”

“Faculty were in the same position as students,” Muller said in the comment.

Linguistics professor Misha Becker said UNC faculty members received no additional information regarding the state of the emergency other than the Alert Carolina texts that were sent over the course of about three hours in lockdown, before the all-clear at 4:14 p.m. 

An hour before the all-clear, the University canceled classes for the rest of the day.

Becker, who is also a member of UNC's Faculty Executive Committee, said she hopes the University will revise its emergency communication protocol to provide more specific and frequent instructions. She also said she felt that the Alert Carolina messages during the lockdown did not provide new information on the active shooter situation.

“I tend to think that some sort of a mandatory [safety] training, and not just awareness, but how to respond in an active shooter situation — that sort of training would be a good idea,” she said.

Media Relations told The Daily Tar Heel that active shooter training by UNC public safety officials is available to any campus entity “upon request.”

“I really think that moving forward, doing actual drills would be really helpful because when you're actually in the situation, it should be more of a muscle memory than Googling things on Alert Carolina to check that we followed the correct procedures,” Law said.

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Clarification: A previous version of this article did not include details about Law’s full response to the lockdown situation on Aug. 28. The article has been edited to better reflect Law’s response to the initial emergency Alert Carolina message.