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OU Alerts not issued in situations without credible threat, university official says after rumor of possible gunman

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OUPD responds to an incident on the South Oval Feb. 8.

After rumors circulated of a possible security threat south of campus Wednesday, no OU Alert was issued regarding the situation.

Multiple sources told The Daily Wednesday evening that Greek fraternity and sorority houses were taking precautions due to messages related to a possible gunman near campus. Police later determined the suspicious person was not armed and not a threat.

Kesha Keith, OU director of media relations, said in a Thursday email that police determined the potential threat was not credible, and that the OU alert system is only used when a potential threat or emergency is identified as credible.

At 9:48 p.m., Keith said in the email, the Norman Police Department received a call reporting a possibly armed suspicious person near a Greek house within its jurisdiction. Once they arrived, Keith said, NPD determined there was no threat and no lockdown was issued, and OUPD continued to monitor the situation. 

At 9:57 p.m., Keith said, OUPD located the individual on university grounds, and after further assessing the situation with NPD, confirmed there was no weapon or threat.

Javier Ramirez, human relations and women’s and gender studies senior, was at the Sigma Nu fraternity house when it obtained security footage of the suspicious person Wednesday night trying to open the door to the house. Ramirez is a member of the fraternity but does not live at the house. 

Ramirez said he thought of past incidents such as the 2017 shooting at Phi Gamma Delta in which no OU alert was issued. An OU official said at the time that the shooting was contained before an alert could be issued.

I just think it's really funny how OU polices Greek Life a lot (for good reason) but when it comes to possible gunmen and security footage of strangers trying to break into our Greek houses, there is no emergency alert sent out to students, especially the ones by the dorms

— Javi Ramirez (@javiouslyy) October 10, 2019

Keith said the OU alert system is not used for non-credible threats to avoid desensitizing the system’s more than 48,000 users.

“The Emergency Alert system is used when a critical incident occurs on campus. OU does not use the Emergency Alert system to calm or dispel rumors as that is not its intended use,” Keith said in the email. “Addressing rumors would result in an overuse of the system and would desensitize users, prompting them to opt out of the system and miss out on valuable information needed during an emergency.” 

If a threat is found credible near OU’s greek houses or at other locations where students may be affected, Keith said, an OU alert will be sent out. The system is intended to cover threats on OU’s campus and immediate areas adjacent to campus.

“Credible threats that impact our community and call for the dissemination of an Emergency Alert include active shooter, gas leak, large fire, bomb threats, inclement weather, area lockdowns,” Keith said in the email.

Keith said if the incident is called into OUPD and is a clear danger, the OUPD shift lieutenant issues an alert immediately. Otherwise, alerts are vetted through OUPD Command, Operational Leadership, and Marketing and Communications.

In April 2018, the alert system was not used when an armed subject was barricaded at the Crimson Park apartment complex, and the university received criticism after no alert was sent, though it was not immediately adjacent to campus. The OU alert system has since been used most recently in the case of a suspicious package near campus. 

Ramirez said he did research at the University of Arizona this past summer, and that he received more alerts of possible security threats there — he still gets multiple alerts from Arizona each week of possible threats.

“I feel like it’s a better-safe-than-sorry kind of situation,” Ramirez said. “Better to have it and not use it than to not use it when something bad actually happens. ... That would make you feel safer to be on this campus than to not hear a single thing and find out from our fraternity group chat that our house is potentially broken into, or trying to be broken into.”

Scott Kirker is a letters and Spanish senior and assistant news managing editor for The Daily. Previously he worked as summer editor-in-chief and as a news reporter covering research and administrative searches.

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