Days after a gunman killed nine people at an Oregon community college, students and faculty at the University of Maryland, College Park got an email from their campus police chief.

The Oct. 1 mass shooting, Chief David Mitchell wrote, "serves as a reminder that violent, heinous acts such as this can occur anywhere, any time."


College and university officials in Maryland say they keep close tabs on school shootings across the country, and they regularly update their security strategies to prevent similar tragedies. Most campus communities are vigilant about being aware of and reporting suspicious behavior.

At College Park, campus police employ a full-time social media coordinator to monitor posts that could indicate a safety threat. McDaniel College in Westminster is weighing increased outdoor lighting and landscaping changes. Stevenson University's campus computers display emergency alerts as an urgent pop-up message.

Towson University Police Department's plans for responding to a campus shooting or other act of violence are "constantly evolving," said Deputy Police Chief Col. Charles "Joe" Herring.

"We critique these instances as they occur around the country and we learn from them," Herring said.

Authorities said they do not take threats lightly. A former University of Maryland honors student was arrested in 2012 after he threatened in an online post to "kill enough people to make it to national news." A year later, a graduate student there killed one roommate and injured another at their off-campus house before fatally shooting himself.

Other incidents erupted Friday in the wake of the Oregon shooting as two people were killed and four injured in two separate college shootings. A college freshman at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff was in custody after a shooting outside a fraternity early Friday morning killed Annapolis native Colin Brough and injured three others. Later Friday, one student was killed and another injured at Texas Southern University in Houston.

Earlier last week, a Cecil College student who made graphic drawings of a shooting while at a California treatment facility was detained and sent to a mental health facility, the Cecil Whig reported. Upon review, county prosecutors decided not to charge or identify him, but an investigation is continuing to determine whether he planned to execute a shooting.

Campuses in Philadelphia and Kentucky also received threats since the Oregon shooting.

Preempting a shooting with an arrest can cause a constitutional dilemma, Mitchell said.

The University of Maryland uses a Behavior Evaluation and Threat Assessment team to field reports from friends and professors of students acting in a way that is "concerning, disruptive or threatening." The team of police, mental health professionals, counselors and student affairs personnel attempt to catch "warning signs" and intervene before a student becomes a shooter.

After an incident anywhere in the country, university administrators gather details and ask themselves, "Are we similarly situated? What can we then learn from this?" Mitchell said,

Matt Carmichael, the police chief at the University of California, Davis, developed an Active Shooter Survival Workshop that he has presented at schools, communities and agencies across the country.

In preparing the course, Carmichael examined cases such as the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting, in which 32 people were killed, and noted that police often aren't the first on the scene — community members are.

"Community members end up being the first responders," he said. "They need to know what to do."


Keeping campuses safe requires "connecting the dots" between police agencies and the community, and between mental health services and those who need them, he said.

"We can't predict these incidents but we can mitigate our risks by collaborating," he said.

Educating the public on best practices in responding to an incident, quickly notifying them in an emergency and having policies that can adapt to new threats as they arise are all crucial, he said.

"It requires us to circle the wagons, to look for areas where there is room for improvement," he said. "We have to be fluid, we have to practice, we have to plan."

One of the biggest changes in active shooter policing followed the killing of 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. Previously, law enforcement had been taught to contain and negotiate with shooters while waiting for SWAT reinforcements.

In the Columbine massacre, the shooters opened fire while police waited outside.

"That was a game changer for us," Mitchell said. "We now know there is no waiting. ... It requires an immediate response by law enforcement personnel trained to engage and neutralize."

When someone fired shots at a McDaniel College dormitory early one Sunday morning last year, the campus was locked down for three hours. No one was hurt.

The college's alert system sent six messages to students over the course of the lockdown.

"For us it's really just constantly educating our students and making them aware — reminding them to not walk alone and remain aware of their surroundings," said Cheryl Knauer, a college spokeswoman.

Stevenson University's Owings Mills campus faced a similar situation one day in March 2014 due to what turned out to be a pellet gun seen on campus. Officials there already had been promoting the familiar "see something, say something" policy, encouraging students to report concerns to authorities.

It worked, university spokesman John Buettner said — a student reported the weapon, which prompted the lockdown.

"After this lockdown, it became more apparent how important this policy is for everyone's safety on campus," Buettner said in a statement.

Stevenson is one of several universities that have created their own versions of a Department of Homeland Security active-shooter protocol video called "Run. Hide. Fight."

Every incident provides campuses an opportunity to review and refine practices.

"We learn from our mistakes," Carmichael said. "Sometimes it's a harsh reality."