By Logan Garrett, Editor-In-Chief—
At 11:26 a.m. on Thursday, August 28, the UTC alert system contacted students and stated UTC and Chattanooga Police were searching for a white man with blonde hair carrying a rifle walking on East 8th Street toward UTC.
By 1:53 p.m., authorities issued an all clear for UTC’s campus and all units discontinued operations.
Media chaos and confusion ensued during the 2 hours and 27 minutes in between the initial alert and the all clear notice. Misinformation about the situation spread like wildfire from students and media outlets alike, with The Chattanoogan tweeting an “active shooter reported at UTC,” and students posting on social media that the gunman had taken hostages in Fletcher Hall.
None of this was true. In fact, there was never even a “gunman” on campus.
According to Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy, a Chattanooga Police officer at the end of their shift had their tactical gear. The officer was walking into their home and caused alarm.
Both UTC and Chattanooga Police acted quickly and took the necessary safety precautions in case the report was a legitimate threat. Within 45 minutes of the initial report, Fletcher Hall had been mostly evacuated and the portion of McCallie Avenue between Houston Street and Campus Drive had been blocked off by the authorities.
“I am very impressed though with the UTC police, how they shut down everything,” freshman Chris Offutt said. “It makes you feel very safe, but it’s just crazy that something like this could happen on our campus, which is a safe and beautiful place.”
Both students and professors were affected by the incident. According to College of Business Professor John Morgan, faculty members were told there was a gunman on campus but to remain in the classroom until further notice.
“Of course in the society we live in, you feel a little bit of anxiety, but I stayed mostly focused on getting people out of the building and where they needed to be,” Morgan said. “My primary consideration of course was my students and our safety. My understanding was that we should stay in place until we hear something official.”
Once authorities had cleared the building, Chattanooga Chief of Police David Roddy and UTC Chief of Police Robert Ratchford held a joint press conference on campus that revealed the facts of the incident.
In an email to students the following day, UTC Chancellor Dr. Steven Angle reflected on the events of the previous day.
“While we are thankful that there was not a credible threat on our campus and our students were always safe, there is always an opportunity to assess our actions and consider potential changes to our procedures,” Dr. Angle said.
Dr. Angle continued to state that the university is reviewing the decisions made during the incident and creating an assessment of how the situation was handled.
“In retrospect, we should have locked down the campus when the report came in of a possible suspicious person in Fletcher Hall and Chattanooga Police Department responded in force. We will review the decisions that were made and decide whether our assessment process is adequate. In addition, our information systems and processes will be reviewed to ensure there are coordinated, timely and accurate messages across the campus and in the community,” Dr. Angle said.