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Disabled students say MSU's 'Run, Hide, Fight' protocol doesn't protect them

April 6, 2023
<p>A Classroom Emergency Guidelines sign in a classroom in the Communication, Arts and Sciences building. They are up on the walls in all classrooms on campus. Photographed on April 5, 2023. </p>

A Classroom Emergency Guidelines sign in a classroom in the Communication, Arts and Sciences building. They are up on the walls in all classrooms on campus. Photographed on April 5, 2023.

On the night of the Feb. 13 shooting, social sciences sophomore Amber Olguin, a student with a mobility impairment, got up to move her dresser in front of door, but realized she wasn't able to.

“In that moment it hit me; I'd be screwed because I couldn't move our furniture to barricade the door,” Olguin said. “And then students in Berkey who were going out the window ... would that even have been a possibility? Where would that have left me?”

Emergency guidelines posted inside classrooms at MSU give guidance under five emergency categories: active shooter situations, secure-in-place orders, evacuations, seeking shelter and hazardous material leaks or spills. Only the evacuation section gives specific instruction for students with disabilities. 

The evacuation guidelines for persons with disabilities are:

  1. Assist to the nearest safe stairway.
  2. Inform the nearest police or fire personnel of their location for assistance.
  3. Do not use the elevator.
  4. Deaf / hearing-impaired individuals may not realize the evacuation alarm is sounding and may require alerting and guidance to the exit and rally site.
screenshot-2023-04-05-at-4-09-43-pm

But according to environmental science and management senior Madeleine Tocco, a student with a neurodisability, "the 'somebody' who is going to come and help a disabled person is nobody.”

"Plain and simple," Tocco said.

Tocco and Olguin both serve as representatives for the ASMSU Council of Students with Disabilities. They are "unimpressed" with the guidelines offered for disabled students.

Some disabled students are not able to to run, hide or in the worst-case-scenario, fight someone off, but there are no distinctions in protocol for disabled students during an active shooter situation or other emergencies. Tocco said this oversight in protocol leaves disabled students as an afterthought, and relies on surrounding people to help, which is unreliable. 

"The reality is that able-bodied students will usually help themselves before they even think to help disabled peers who will have extra difficulties because they’d rather save themselves,” Tocco said.

Not all disabilities are visible — students with mobility, hearing or vision impairment that don't use visible aids are left at further disadvantage, Olguin said. 

“It puts the onus on the disabled student in that case to draw attention to that” Olguin said. “Pointing out that you need accommodations in a setting where no one cared to ask in the first place, especially in an emergency situation where everyone is panicking, is going to be a difficult situation.”

Active threat training will become mandatory for students in the fall of 2023. Traditionally, active threat training was optional and provided upon request by the university.

Michigan State University Department of Police and Public Safety spokesperson Dana Whyte said the department never received requests from any specific groups including disabled student groups for this training. 

However, Whyte said they recognize there is room for improvement moving forward and MSU will strive to include all perspectives in their mandatory training. In the meantime, training will still be provided upon request and MSUPD is open to make plans with anyone who feels it is necessary.

“We would recommend that (disabled students) know their own physical capabilities and how to best physically defend themselves in that situation and make that plan in place beforehand by contacting our department,” Whyte told The State News.

Olguin said not only should the university implement mandatory all-inclusive active shooter training, but they also should maintain consistent contact with groups on campus that represent disabled students.

“If more of a voice and space was given to disabled students and the RCPD and the Council of Students with Disabilities to make the university and students as a whole aware of these issues, that would just really help not even just in emergency situations or active shooter situations, but in general.” Olguin said.

Additionally, Tocco said the university needs to have accessibility in mind from start to finish with any plan or project they are doing, to not leave disabled students as an afterthought.

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“If you're disabled you can't hop through windows like everybody else, you can't do what you need to to survive like everybody else whether in normal life or an emergency sometimes,” Tocco said. “So we gotta make this better, that's all there is to it.”

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