The following message was sent to the Middlebury campus community on April 12.
Dear Middlebury Students, Faculty, and Staff,
We are writing to provide additional information and an overview of our procedures following the troubling events on Sunday night. (Known as “swatting” events, these are attempts to deceive emergency responders and prompt them to respond to an address for a false emergency). We appreciate your patience as we spent the early part of this week addressing the needs of our students and employees who were most directly affected—as well as our community at large—and conducting after-action assessments with the many relevant departments.
We are grateful that everyone is safe, and we understand that even a threat that is not credible has a strong effect on our community. We know that you have questions and anxieties when such a traumatic event occurs, and we hope that providing more context will contribute to our collective understanding of the events. While we cannot compromise security, nor the active criminal investigation, we want to share what we have learned and what we will do moving forward.
We have organized this message into a set of questions, followed by explanations and any other information we can share. We ask that you take the time to read the whole message so you are familiar with our procedures.
What more can we say about what happened?
At approximately 10:28 p.m. on Sunday, April 9, the Department of Public Safety’s on-duty telecommunicator received a radio transmission during which the Vermont State Police (VSP) dispatched the Middlebury Police Department (MPD) to our campus after receiving a (later unsubstantiated) report that an active shooter had entered Davis Family Library. The individual who made the report did not identify themselves. Following our protocols, the telecommunications team immediately dispatched the Public Safety team to the scene. MPD responded to the library immediately and was met by Public Safety staff. Public Safety quickly staged a perimeter to prevent additional community members from entering the library while MPD continued their assessment. Initial reports from MPD were that the threat appeared to have low credibility based on what they were seeing at the library, as well as an identified pattern of ongoing hoax calls which will be explained later in this message.
The Vermont State Police (VSP), Rutland Barracks, then evacuated the area. Public Safety officials were present outside the library receiving students and staff who were being led out of the building. This entire process took about one hour. Public Safety staff collected the names and ID numbers of evacuated students so that Student Affairs could provide additional support. They also worked with MPD to identify and share a safe path of travel for students to return to their residence halls.
At 11:54 p.m. the College sent an emergency alert via text, email, and phone calls to all students, faculty, and staff. After the responding law enforcement officers had cleared the scene, a second emergency alert was sent at 12:23 a.m., declaring that there was no credible threat and that normal activities could be resumed. At that time, all on-duty Public Safety staff were called to the library to assist with student support as they collected their belongings.
What protocols are in place for such an event?
Middlebury has a robust emergency operations plan, which establishes a framework of policy and guidance for emergency preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation of risk. The Crisis Management Team (CMT) and Emergency Management Team (EMT) utilize and review this plan regularly during routine training and tabletop emergency response exercises. These training exercises also include participation from outside agencies such as local and state law enforcement, Porter Medical Center, and other local first responders. Each training exercise includes an after-action review for the purposes of continuous improvement and streamlining of processes.
The emergency operations plan also includes extensive protocols for responding to credible threats of an active shooter on campus. Our most recent active shooter training was conducted in November 2022. For security reasons we cannot provide specifics about the elements of these protocols. The College’s emergency response also includes an emergency notification system (ENS) administered through RAVE Mobile Safety, which includes the ability to simultaneously text, email, and call (and leave voicemail messages for) all faculty, staff, and students. These messages are identified as “MiddAlerts.”
Our system is prepopulated with template messages that are designed for immediate dissemination, including those for credible active shooter emergencies. We periodically test our ENS to ensure that it is working quickly and efficiently. Our last test of our ENS was on April 4, 2023. Students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to check their emergency contact information in Oracle and BannerWeb regularly, as this information is used to disseminate these emergency messages.
What factors were considered when sending the MiddAlert messages, and why was there a delay on Sunday night?
Sunday night’s situation presented several challenges, in particular a substantial police presence on campus amid what was being reported by local law enforcement as a low credibility threat. One reason the threat was considered “low credibility” was that the call came in from the outside–not from inside campus. It was late at night, students were studying in the library, and all was quiet and calm. This was the situation when the Middlebury Police Department arrived on scene. The information provided by the caller was not consistent with what was happening inside or outside Davis Family Library.
These factors were taken into consideration in the decision about whether using our emergency alert system would cause unnecessary panic, given that there was no actual evidence of an active shooter in the library or anywhere else on our campus. Several other universities experienced swatting events that evening also. One issue we wanted to avoid was using the system too hastily when the credibility was considered low.
It should also be noted that the College and local law enforcement have been following these swatter trends as they occur across the country, and have identified a pattern that includes calling the false report into the local police department (rather than the College itself) with vague and sometimes erroneous details about the active shooter situation.
Once we decided to activate MiddAlert we assessed our existing templates related to reports of an active shooter and saw that we needed to create a new message that accurately and succinctly characterized the situation where the threat was not likely to be credible. This contributed to the delay. We also want to acknowledge that the delay caused significant confusion and distress. The morning after the incident, the Crisis Management Team (CMT) reconvened to conduct an after-action review. One of the action items we identified was to develop new alert protocols for situations that involve a low credibility threat with a substantial police presence on campus as we recognized that a significant police presence on our campus is reason for concern and questions. Having a prepopulated template for these situations in the RAVE system can ensure a more timely response in the future.
What has been done to support our students and employees?
Since the incident, members of the Student Affairs, Human Resources, and Public Safety teams have been answering calls, emails, and walk-ins from students, parents, families, and employees who were most closely affected by the events. Our priority has been to provide outreach and support to the students who were present in the library, and we recognize there is still work to be done regarding the larger community impact. We are gratified that many of the students the team spoke with reported that, although they were frightened during the event, they felt supported by the officials at the scene and those who attended to them following the event. We are continuing to offer these students our support. Student concerns have focused on notification protocols to the campus community and their families, consistency of faculty response in the days after the event, as well as Residence Assistant training.
What are we doing to improve?
In addition to improving our MiddAlert notification processes, other action items will include the following:
- An after-action review of the incident with responding law enforcement.
- Review and update our emergency plans with new attention to protocols on low credibility, high community impact events.
- In our regular review of active shooter response protocols, identification of areas of communication and systems improvement that emerged in our real-time experience of the swatting event.
- Work with subject matter experts, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, to provide additional resources and training for our community, including specific focus for student, faculty, and staff populations.
Appreciation and thanks
We commend our students and staff who were in the library that evening for the incredible way they responded to the situation. They were calm and cooperative throughout the incident despite what was a frightening situation. We extend our deep appreciation to our Public Safety officers who responded immediately to the scene, our Student Affairs staff who have been supporting impacted students since the incident, and to Human Resources which is supporting employees.
We thank the Middlebury Police Department and the Vermont State Police for their response. We are deeply grateful to them for their continued partnership and all that they did to assist us.
Our best way forward will be to continuously improve our technologies and protocols to respond in the most effective way possible. We also want to thank our entire community for supporting one another as we all process these events together.
Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration
Interim Executive Vice President and Provost
Chief Risk Officer and Crisis Management Team Chair