Public Venues Ratchet Up Security Measures

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — In the wake of mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, the safety and security of those at local institutions across many sectors, from education to entertainment, is being revisited.

A multilayered approach to active shooter scenarios is in place at Youngstown State University. Ron Cole, public information officer, said the YSU police department consists of almost 30 full-time officers and 100 part-time commissioned officers who go through regular training relating to situations that may occur on campus.

“Most recently, we’ve updated a lot of our emergency operation plans across campus,” he said. “Every building has an emergency operation plan, which outlines what should be done in the event of a variety of situations on campus.”

All classroom doors received new locks that automatically lock when the door is closed and the recently expanded PenguinAlert system ensures the safety of all students with emergency text alerts, he said. Students can sign up for PenguinAlert at Additional communication will be going out before the academic year starts to outline safety precautions, including a video that will show how to respond to an active shooter scenario.

“We have a good crisis communication plan that puts into place a variety of actions we would take in the event of an emergency in terms of how to communicate to students, to faculty, to the community, the media,” Cole said.

On campus and as well as in the city, police officers at the Youngstown Police Department participate in two cycles of annual training to ensure the safety of the community.

“During those in-services, we have done responses to active shooter training a number of times so the officers are familiar with it,” said Chief Robin Lees. “Our community police officers are trained in the new alert training, which is a response to an active shooter typically in a workplace environment.”

The training is available to local businesses in the Youngstown area as well, and would serve employees and management well if they find themselves in an active shooter situation, Lees said.

Youngstown Police Chief Robin Lees says emergency training programs are available for businesses.

“You want to evacuate or take cover, and these are assessments you have to make on your own,” he said. “You need to be practicing good crime prevention to begin with. Know your surroundings and understand who and what is around you. If you feel somebody is suspicious or see something that looks unusual, don’t keep that to yourself.”

Active shooter safety education programs have been put into place at the Ohio National Safety Council in Youngstown, including running, hiding and fighting defenses others can take advantage of should they find themselves in an active shooter scenario.

“I think that as they describe them as soft targets, it makes all of us a little more aware of those places that we go everyday,” said Larry Kingston, executive director of the local National Safety Council chapter. “We need to check out things like exits. Anything that sounds like a gunshot, even though you might think it’s a firecracker, you need to react to it and get away from it.”

Addressing cultural things such as the younger generation being involved with social media and the dark web will further impact the safety of others, Kingston said.

“If we hear somebody say something that is very harmful, they want to kill people, they want to eliminate people of a certain culture, a certain color, we need to notify the police and let the police sort it out before it gets to the extreme,” Kingston said.

Safety precautions are taken daily at the Eastwood Mall Complex in Niles. People have to be aware of soft targets, said Joe Bell, spokesman for the Cafaro Company.

“That could be your church, that could be your daycare center, any place of businesses,” he said. “We have to get into the mindframe of thinking about where you are at any given time of the day and how you would defend yourself or save your life.”

Fourteen years ago, safety precautions were upgraded within the mall complex in light of the Sept. 11 attacks and continued to be updated, Bell said. With shopping malls being crowded with people, it’s an easy target for an active shooter.

“We have run a variety of scenarios and training programs since that time with our own internal security, with our tenants, our employees and local law enforcement so they can drill on these types of scenarios,” Bell said. “It’s been very helpful. People have learned a lot about how to operate in an environment like an enclosed shopping mall.”

Training exercises are done as often as possible, which entails real life scenarios people undergo during an emergency. Last week at the Cafaro corporate headquarters, employees were engaged in active shooter training to understand the basis for attacks like this and the best ways to defend themselves, Bell said.

“We’ll bring in local police chiefs, other first responders and have them in on the planning, and very often, local volunteers will act as victims or shoppers,” Bell said. “It’s very realistic with guns firing blanks. Police officers will be doing everything they would do should shots start being fired in a mall.”

Over the last 12 years, the security of customers, employees and artists has increased at the Covelli Centre. Metal detectors have been added at entrances at the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre and the Covelli Centre, and security has doubled over the last five years, said Ken Bigley, vice president of the JAC Management Group.

“We don’t open the doors to any event without an armed, uniformed police officer on-site,” Bigley said. “We’ve created a relationship with [U.S. Department of] Homeland Security to stay on the forefront of any alerts or messaging that’s going out from Homeland Security.”

Active shooter training courses have also been implemented for the security and event staff at the Covelli Centre and the amphitheater. Safety is always taken seriously with the event calendar filled with family and children related shows, said Phoebe Breckenridge, marketing and sales coordinator.

“We never want anyone to feel unsafe when they come here,” she said. “We aim to be a safe, fun place for people to come to for entertainment.”

Pictured above: Phoebe Breckenridge demonstrates metal detectors at the Covelli Centre.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.