Lockdown: Applied Anthropology and the Study of Campus Emergencies

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Lockdown, Campus Emergencies, Student Perceptions, Applied Anthropology, Cultural Consensus Analysis

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In October 2009, a large public university in central Florida experienced a "lockdown" in response to a reported bomb at the campus library and two other threats. We conducted an anthropological study of how students perceived the university administration's response to these incidents. This study addresses the gaps in our understanding of university campus emergencies. We studied the situated vulnerabilities of students in different parts of the campus during the emergency. Our focus centered on student perceptions and agreement about their shared experiences using systematic research grounded in both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods. We combined a sequential technique of open-ended questions to elicit concerns more broadly (freelisting) and then used a structured interview (questionnaire) analyzed for cultural consensus to validate impressions from the open-ended interviews. Our results indicated a number of key issues for universities, including the need to focus on individuals closest to the danger, improvement of messaging systems and messages themselves, development of more comprehensive plans, and the need for university administrations to create a feeling that they are in control and concerned with student safety. This study, conducted immediately after the event, contributes new insights into the experiences of university students during emergencies and to the anthropological literatures on risk perception and disaster response.

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Human Organization, v. 73, issue 4, p. 326-339