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Students, administrators react to SBCC’s emergency alert messaging after manhunt

SBCC text alerts
Kacey Drescher/KEYT Photo

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Santa Barbara City College says it made the best decision based on the information it had at the moment when they placed the campus on lockdown Wednesday night. 

However, some are calling into question the emergency alert texts that went out.

SBCC officials say they were about to have evening classes with a lot of students and staff still around when they were presented with a “dynamic situation” impacting campus. 

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office says their Compliance Response Team was doing surveillance on the Mesa.  That’s where Fernando Perez Huerta was believed to be, he was wanted for failure to appear in court stemming from narcotics charges. Deputies made contact with him and he took off.

“It’s kind of everyone’s worst nightmare,” said Ari Kirk, Santa Barbara City College third-year student. 

Kirk was in SBCC’s library when she got a text message.

“It said run, hide or fight and we thought hmm we should get out of here,” said Kirk. 

However, the library was placed on lockdown because the wooded area behind the building was the epicenter of a manhunt.

“45 minutes later we were still locked in and they’re like alright guys it’s dark out we’re going to shut the lights off and everyone needs to be 20-feet away from the windows,” said Kirk. 

Kirk says moms were Facetiming their kids and some people were panicking after the alert went out.

“My first response was kind of like is this a joke, did someone hack it? Is this a Halloween thing,” said Ava Etcheveste.

It wasn’t until Ava Etcheveste heard that students were running to safety that she got scared. “I know they didn’t know more but it was vague and confusing for a lot of students,” said the SBCC Junior. 

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office says deputies didn’t believe Fernando Perez Huerta was armed during the search but that he had been known to carry a gun in the past. Which might have prompted the alert to go out on campus.

“In that moment the information that our campus security had from a police officer was that they believed the person was armed and dangerous,” said Luz Reyes-Martín Executive Director of Public Affairs and Communications for Santa Barbara City College.

Reyes-Martín says security had to make a quick decision and the Emergency Operations Protocol Plan was enacted.

“Part of that lockdown messaging for any type of armed intruder or armed type of danger includes the messaging that we sent out and shelter in place,” said Reyes-Martín.

Officials say SBCC utilizes what’s called “Alert-U” and the messaging is in line with what’s used at other colleges and universities.

“We completely agree that we want to revisit that and I think it’s appropriate to look at the messaging and see what improvements we could make,” said Reyes-Martín.

As the Emergency Services Team debriefs and gets input from police, some students say they’re somewhat desensitized given the prevalence of school threats but it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

“It’s good that they were so prepared, just minutes after I got the text I saw police officers outside the library,” said Kirk. 

Reyes-Martín points out that the text alerts are an opt-in service so if you don’t sign up you won’t receive them but they are working with law enforcement to improve their communication with the community. 

Fernando Perez Huerta now faces additional charges including obstruction and trespassing. 

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Kacey Drescher

Kacey Drescher is a reporter/anchor at KEYT|KCOY|KKFX.