Mia Everding: “Hello, and welcome to a special installment of The Daily Nebraskan podcast. In this series, we will highlight stories in The Daily Nebraskan’s special edition magazine titled “It Won’t Happen Here: An In-Depth Look At Safety On Campus.” The Magazine analyzes several facets of UNL safety, from road safety to protocol in the event of an active shooter situation. Today, we will focus on Noah Johnson’s article about the pros and cons of having locks in classrooms on campus.
I’m Mia Everding, assistant news editor, and today I’m joined by Noah Johnson. So, let’s talk about this story.
Can you give me a basic overview of the story?”
Noah Johnson: “Yeah for sure. So last, I would say it was sometime in the spring, like last March, last April, when I was still working at the news desk, I got a email from a former professor who was just, I guess he was just really concerned about the preparedness when it comes to like door locks and really general kind of theme of how prepared a classroom is in the event of an active shooter situation. And so this professor, Randall Bowdish, he served for a long time in the military; he had a long tenure with the navy and he was really, he had a really strong background thanks to that. And one of the big problems he noticed was when it came to like, say locking his door from the inside of his classroom, at least in his classrooms, he said that there wasn’t really a way to lock it from the inside, and you could see that when you went into his classrooms in like Burnett Hall- there’s not really an interior lock. And he said, ‘You know well, that kind of prevents’- it poses the problem because you know there’s that whole Department of Health and Safety thing that says, you know, run hide fight- that’s the core tenants of like an active shooter situation; that’s what you’re supposed to follow. And so when it came to the whole hide aspect, he said, ‘Well, we’re kinda screwed, basically.’ So he- it was really interesting to talk to not only him to hear what his concerns were, but to kind of relay that back over and talk to Owen Yardley, who’s from UNLPD and talk to maintenance people and talk about what the fire code is, and it ties up into this whole thing that there’s not really a set in stone way to satisfy everyone when it comes to preparing for this kind of incident. It was a really interesting story; I thought I was going to get a clear-cut answer out of it, like why this is happening or why isn’t it happening when it comes to installing interior door locks, but really, the truth of it is that it’s really a gray area. He was very passionate about the fact that there should be interior door locks or there should be more steps toward safety when it comes to that and you know, from his perspective you can definitely see that like as a student, you want to know you’re able to keep yourself safe in an active shooter situation, and the prospect of not being able to lock your door can definitely seem scary. But on the flipside, Owen Yardley talked about … how he wanted to institute a deadbolt lock kind of system, and that’s what Bowdish kind of presented as an alternative and that wasn’t the case- that’s not possible when it comes to when you talk about fire code and all that stuff; that’s not a thing you can do. And so, it was, I don’t know, it was a really interesting story not because I came away feeling like I had a clear-cut answer but I feel like I had- I had a more clear answer in the fact that there’s really not a way that you can satisfy both sides when it comes to this.
ME: “Yeah and kind of going off of that, what was one of the most surprising things you found from like background research that you did to the other people you interviewed?”
NJ: “I would say kind of the thing that surprised me the most was when I talked to Owen, he was very candid in the fact that, ‘Well, we could do this, but it would possibly open up other problems’ like, say someone could lock themselves into a room and hurt somebody or attack somebody or lock themselves into a room and steal something. Um, and so that was kind of an interesting you know perspective that he was very candid in the fact that, ‘Well, I’ve been doing this for a long time and I just know that interior locks do not work.’ I would say that’s one of the most interesting things I saw is that he was just very set in stone in his belief that that’s not going to be implemented even though he noted like the concern that Bowdish had. It was- I don’t know- it was kind of one of the things that stuck out to me, I guess.”
ME: “And going into all of your research and then going into your interviews, were you expecting to, like you had said earlier, you thought you were going to get like a clear-cut answer like, ‘Yes, this is way it should be implemented’- did you expect that kind of arguments from both sides or was that surprising as well?”
NJ: “I expected like them to have different viewpoints. There was an email chain that Bowdish had with multiple members of … UNLPD and safety officials and stuff like that ultimately it ended up with Yardley and this was when he was still a teacher and he was saying that he believed that door locks should be implemented and all of that stuff I was basically talking about earlier. He put in this there was a long email conversation I got a chance to go through and I would say that you could just tell that he was very passionate about doing that. Yardley, on the other hand, knew that in his experience, he didn’t think this would work out.”
ME: “What kind of reaction do you think students will have after reading your story?”
NJ: “I think one of the things that, you know as a student myself, when I first saw that email as an editor in the news section, it was kinda an ‘Ah ha!’ moment where we were like, ‘Well, now that I’m thinking about it, when I go into my classrooms in, say in like Andrews Hall or Burnett- where his classroom was- there isn’t an interior lock,’ which is kind of- I thought it was concerning at first then I was like, ‘Well, you know what that’s really not okay,’ but I think when you talk about like looking at it from the big picture, even Bowdish acknowledges that there is an extremely low chance of an active shooter situation on a campus. With that being said, it could still happen, obviously, but I think students from this story will realize that there is maybe a safety concern. It’s whatever they’ll take away from it, but at the same time, I think it’s important to realize more than just talking about what this is, the whole conversation about having your classroom locked- it’s the conversation about, ‘Well, how do we go about doing that in a way that, you know, benefits both sides.’ And right now- it’s like the headline of the story- it’s a gray area: that’s what I’ve heard from multiple officials when I’ve talked to them. [People] who have a lot of experience handling this kind of stuff. It’s a gray area; there’s not really a clear-cut way to solve this problem right now. I talked with Richard Firebaugh, I believe I’m saying his name right, and one of the things he talked about was- I didn’t include this in the story- but one thing we were talking about in passing was there’s like the possiblity of like, maybe you could include these really high tech door locks that can lock like electronically but that would involve retrofitting the entire campus, and they’re extremely expensive, so it’s kind of one of those things of ‘Well, if we had the money, we would definitely do that.’ But not really the case right now, so there’s like, I guess there is a solution but it’s not really an attainable one. It’s just kind of something we talked about in conversation and he kind of reinforced what Yardley said, he said it was, you know, it was a gray area. You know, there’s not really a clear-cut way that they’ve been able to find a way to solve that. So once again, going back to that, that’s important to know and that’s what I want people to take away from it.”
ME: “So we kind of already touched on this with the basic overview of the story, but what are like three or just a couple main takeaways that you have for the story?”
NJ: “I would say like the main takeaways that I had: obviously, the fact that it’s a gray area, there’s not really a clear-cut way to solve this problem from who I’ve talked to now even though there’s a lot of people on both sides who are passionate about it. It’s really important to know that there are also other ways that you can prepare for those kind of stuff. UNLPD offers training and I don’t know how many people they serve each year, but they’re definitely, from who I’ve talked to, very open and they’re willing to go out there and help. I don’t know how effective that’s been; I don’t know how many people they’ve actually ended up reaching, but that’s definitely something that’s out there. But yeah, I think the biggest thing is that this is a conversation that’s been going on for a long time and it’s probably going to keep going on until some kind of solution is reached. I think, obviously, everyone who, in this story, wants what’s best for students, and the only thing is there hasn’t been really a set in stone way to satisfy all those people who have those like really strong- that strong passion for protecting their students.”
ME: “Is there anything else we need to add that we haven’t touched on or did we kind of hit every main point, you think?”
NJ: “No yeah, I think we hit everything. I was really um, I was really impressed, or I was really thankful for Bowdish to come out and talk about this. I know he was really passionate, you know, throughout when I talked to him, even when I reached out to him to make sure that he was still okay with this story coming out, he was a little, you know, hesitant towards it a little bit like that, but he cares a lot about the safety of students and that shows by what he said. He’s obviously had a very strong stance against how the university was handling it right now, which is definitely, I mean, everyone’s entitled to that. I mean, he cared a lot about how this situation is being handled. And then on the flipside, I think Owen Yardley and I think the UNLPD- they did a great job about being open and kind of being candid about how this situation plays out and when you’re looking at it from an administrative perspective. It was fun; it was a good learning experience for me just to learn that it was a really; you know, just to come away from that answer that this isn’t really; you know, this is still a conversation that’s going on.”
ME: “Definitely. Well, thank you for tuning in to today’s special edition podcast. Stay tuned for more of these special edition podcasts and pick up a copy of the magazine to learn more about safety at UNL. Stay informed and stay safe.”