In the wake of the recent attacks on Chelsea, N.Y., and Seaside Park, N.J., the nation feels a sense of bittersweet relief that the potential 42,000 combined members of those communities escaped those attacks without a single casualty. By comparison, Marist College is home to only a fraction of those totals, but the over 6,000 members of the community still live in a world where the news is littered with reports of mass school shootings and domestic terrorism.
In these times, security remains a key component of college life, particularly at Marist over the past 12 months. The school has had a handful of high-security incidents and events and is also going through a transitional period. As President David Yellen assumed office from the hands of Dr. Dennis Murray in early July, Security Director John Gildard also announced his retirement after 14 years in the role and over 25 years working with Marist. Dozens of qualified individuals convened as members of a national committee who interviewed over 120 candidates for the vacant job, eventually settling on John Blaisdell, the Associate Dean of Students at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn. Blaisdell will assume the position in the middle of October, with Senior Assistant Director of Security Al Aldelrahman acting as director in the interim time.
Throughout these rapid changes to upper-level management recently, Dr. Geoffrey Brackett remains a constant in the school’s inner workings. Brackett, the Executive Vice President at Marist since 2010, fulfills many roles within the college, one of which is the director supervisor to the security director. He also acts as a liaison between the school and the local town of Poughkeepsie authorities.
“Every single security situation is contextual,” says Brackett. “There is a protocol to understand, but it’s an inexact science. You find out what works and doesn’t work while the situation is going on.”
Security is in charge of day-to-day operations, ranging from something as small as responding to a burnt popcorn fire alarm to something slightly bigger like the coordination of sporting events with local police. Within the past school year, however, there have been challenging situations that required above-and-beyond response from security and administration in order to preserve the safety of the college community.
Brackett notes two specific instances in particular that presented unique tests for the security team. On November 13 of last year, just days after the open-fire shooting incident at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina left a person dead, Marist College was placed under lockdown after two separate threats were made towards the school by the Twitter account of a local teenager. On that day, Brackett served as acting President of the school while Dr. Murray and his family were away on business in Italy.
“I got a call at around 4-5 AM,” says Brackett. “From that moment on we worked with local law enforcement and did our best to shut down the campus.”
Immediately, the shelter-in-place protocol was put in place, a rule that mandates that the students stay where they are for their own safety and the safety of the school in general. From there, the only people allowed to move on campus are members of law enforcement and the critical emergency response team, which is made up of all-essential personnel from the President’s cabinet. Students were kept notified by the Everbridge System, a communications system that sends texts, e-mails, and phone calls continually to each person until the party responds that they have received the message.
“The Everbridge system allows us to keep a general track of the numbers who are in the loop and know what is going on,” says Brackett. “It’s difficult to manage, but ultimately very helpful.”
The Twitter threats turned out to be weightless, but security response was effective nonetheless. Brackett praises the work of his security team, particularly how they work as a team and do their best to be as student-centered as possible. He credits the success of that day to a mixture of the trust between students, faculty, security, plus a bit of luck.
“If this had happened in the middle of the day while classes were going on, we may have responded differently. You have to respond the best you can with the information that you have.”
The other unique instance Brackett discusses was the arrival of then Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to campus on April 12. Following an invitation from Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro to all presidential candidates prior to the New York primary on April 19, Brackett received a call from both political parties less than a week prior to the eventual arrival of the senator.
“Things happened pretty quickly. Before we knew it, we had security detail and secret service all over campus, sweeping through McCann Arena with bomb dogs. It was thorough, but we wanted to make sure this wouldn’t be a negative event for the Hudson Valley area in general, and it seemed to go off without a hitch.”
These were examples of high-profile security events on the main Marist campus, but security is also a concern when talking about the protection of the Marist community off-campus, in particular the commuting interns to New York City multiple times a week and participants of the Marist in Manhattan program, a primarily communications and fashion based program run by Professor Gerry McNulty and Mr. Juan-Manuel Olivera-Silvera that allows students to experience “big-city life” while also gaining valuable internship and school experience.
The students at the Marist in Manhattan program live at a multi-purpose community center known as 92Y. Located on 92nd & Lexington, 92Y has 230 dormitory rooms and 24-hour security, a Resident Community Assistant employed by the school to act as an RA for the students, and Resident Liaison Associate Milton Ouslend, who acts as the communication channel between the students, McNulty and Olivera-Silvera.
In the case of a potential emergency such as the one that occurred last weekend, McNulty and company sent out a memo urging students to do small but important things such as travel in groups and inform friends of their schedules. Much like Brackett, however, McNulty urges that security is not a constant, using an illustrative metaphor for his point.
“Do you take your foot off the gas every time you go through an intersection?” asks McNulty. “It changes from time to time. Security is a difficult and complex issue, and the reality is that this can happen anywhere at anytime. But the way I see it is that as long as our students do what they’re supposed to do, follow directions, and use common sense, they’ll be safe.”
With these long-term professionals doing everything they can to ensure the best situations possible for the Marist community, the security team looks to the future, with a future focus on technology advancements and improving protocol the best they can.
In an exclusive statement made to The Red Fox Report, Security Director-elect Blaisdell outlines his preliminary plans stepping into the new role.
“As with any significant safety event on a college campus, as those we have seen in the news lately, it takes everyone to respond appropriately. It must include all faculty, staff and students – as well as local, state and federal law enforcement when required. The world is changing in front of our eyes. I am committed to leading a Campus Safety and Security Department that is first and foremost student centered, where all Campus Safety staff are supported, informed, adaptable, supportive of students, approachable and well trained. ”