When the sirens located around East Tennessee State University sounded Tuesday night warning of a possible threat on campus, it was the first time such an alert had been issued since the sirens were installed more than four years ago.
Though rarely activated except for periodic testing, those sirens were intended to warn of danger when they were erected back in 2008, in the wake of the massacre at Virginia Tech that took place in 2007.
The alerts Tuesday went out just before 6:50 p.m. and warned that a possible threat was on campus. Students were encouraged to stay inside and lock doors. Everything was deemed safe by around 7:15 that night.
Johnson City police had pursued Daniel Cash, 22, 205 Fairridge Road, onto campus. Cash had been stopped nearby and had a warrant for a domestic assault charge.
After fleeing police, Cash, who was not a student, was thought to be near Centennial Hall, a dormitory where he allegedly had acquaintances, but he was not found to be on campus. No news of his arrest had come as of Wednesday evening.
But in that nearly half hour he was being sought at ETSU, the campus community heard the verbal warnings issued forth from the sirens indicating a threat was nearby. Additionally, a text message was sent to the campus community informing recipients authorities were looking for a man who may have come into Centennial. It was unclear if he was armed, the text message read.
The warnings students and anyone else who happened to be near the campus heard Tuesday actually marked the second time the sirens had been used to alert the public to possible danger. The sirens warned of the tornados that tore through the area back in April 2011.
Protocol for utilizing the system is evolving constantly, said David Collins, ETSU vice president for finance and administration.
The shift commander for ETSU Public Safety has the authority to decide to use the emergency alert system.
Certain cases merit the activation with no debate, especially any situation involving a gun or a shooting.
“In this case we had a person who had been identified by Johnson City Police Department who was fleeing due to a domestic assault, had been seen coming into campus, was in the vicinity of the dorm, had been lost sight of and there was real concern that he had gone into the dorm,” Collins said.
The officer in charge deemed that was a situation that merited use of the sirens. Information that Cash may have known someone in the dorm made it even more plausible he could have been heading for Centennial Hall.
Only people with ETSU-issued cards can open the dormitory entrance, but it is easy for people to duck in when the door has opened by a legitimate resident.
ETSU President Brian Noland went around to students after the all clear call was made to assure them everything was OK.
“Quite frankly all we’ve had is good compliments about the way it was all handled,” Collins said. “They appreciated us looking after their safety that way.”
ETSU is required by federal law to give timely warnings of crimes or threats that present a danger to students or employees.
“We’re going to always err on the side of caution,” Collins said of warning about danger. “Your first responsibility is to notify of the potential and then deal with it.”
There are three sirens on the main ETSU campus and two on the College of Medicine campus, which is located on the grounds of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Mountain Home. The VA also has a siren. All of those sirens broadcast the alert Tuesday night.