Sunday's Incident and MIT Alert Communications

September 15, 2015

To the members of the MIT community,

I write to share my thoughts on the emergency messaging that MIT community members received Sunday afternoon and evening in response to a violent incident in close proximity to our campus.

At around 4:30 PM Sunday, the MIT Police received a report of a shooting on the corner of Main and Portland Streets in Cambridge. The MIT Police had a significant presence in the area at that time, as there was a large, annual public gathering taking place. The shooting, still under investigation by the Cambridge Police Department (CPD), would turn out to be non-life-threatening, and the victim not to be affiliated with MIT.

In order to ensure the safety and security of our community, the MIT Police patrols every corner of the MIT campus, as well as its close vicinity. The MIT campus is located in an urban environment and has no "hard edges." In fact, many MIT faculty, researchers, students, and staff work in the buildings surrounding the location of the incident.

We err on the side of safety and aim to provide timely notifications to our community of violent crimes occurring within the MIT campus and its surrounding areas. On Sunday, MIT sent a timely alert to members of the MIT community through the MIT Alert system informing them of the shooting and asking them to evacuate the area.

Due to human error, members of the MIT community also received redundant and conflicting messages saying that there was an active shooter on campus. The error was caused by an accidental engagement of pre-scripted language we have prepared for a specific contingency: a time when we believe that someone is on our campus and shooting. At no time on Sunday did we believe there to be an active shooter posing a threat to any member of the MIT community.

A follow-up corrective message, unfortunately, implied that we don't consider the area of the shooting to be part of our community. We should have made clear that our error was in characterizing the alert as involving an active shooter.

We have taken steps to prevent these mistakes from happening in the future. On behalf of all of those responsible for managing and executing the MIT Alert system, I apologize for the confusion and distress that our messages caused.

I am personally and deeply committed to doing everything possible to ensure the safety of our community, and I am working closely with MIT Chief of Police John DiFava and Commissioner Robert Haas of the Cambridge Police Department to make sure we are implementing and executing the most thorough plan to ensure the safety of us all.

If you have particular concerns or questions about safety, I encourage you to contact the MIT Police. You'll find general contact information below, as well as contact information for Captain Cheryl Vossmer, who is well known to many across our community.

Sincerely,
Israel Ruiz

P.S. If you are not already subscribed to MIT Alert, please visit the MIT emergency page and click the "MIT Alert" link at top left.

MIT Police Department
301 Vassar Street
Cambridge MA 02139
(617) 253-1212 

Captain Cheryl Vossmer
(617) 253-9751
crimbite@mit.edu