The Campus Security Director Who Fears a Mass Shooting

Photo: Courtesy of Adelphi University

Ray Hughes, 56
Captain of Emergency Management and Training at Adelphi University
Holbrook, NY

I started out on the midnight shift. There was a lot of patrolling, walking through the dormitories, talking to students, and keeping up with the RAs. About a decade ago there was a posting for a brand-new position as security captain — taking over the lieutenants, sergeants, and officers. I put in for it. I was not the initial choice. I was actually third. But maybe the money wasn’t enough or no one else liked the midnight hour, so I got the chance. At the end of the fourth year, my role got renamed and I got more responsibility. I became a member of campus emergency management.

My main job is making sure the campus is at a constant state of readiness. I’m fourth in command. There’s an assistant vice-president and associate directors, so I’m the highest-ranking uniformed officer. I oversee 3 lieutenants, 6 sergeants, and 25 officers.

When I come in in the morning we have a roll call and then we talk about news that happened overnight. This morning we talked about bombing Syria. We discussed awareness of any type of terrorist activity or some type of retaliation. We have a study-abroad program so, first thing first, we looked at the list. Thank God, we didn’t have anybody in Syria. But we have to also look at the whole region in case someone is traveling — students or faculty …

I’m obsessed, that’s the problem. I’m passionate about preparedness.

I got my first job when I was 17. I made $3.25 an hour in a Massapequa shopping mall as a security guard. I was loaded ’cause I worked whenever I could. I graduated from Adelphi in ’82. My neighbor worked there, and he said, “Why don’t you come work for me until you find something else?” By 21, I was a security supervisor.

And then I left for Wall Street. My father said, “Enough’s enough. Come make some real money. You’re getting married.” I went to work as a currency trader not even knowing what a calculator was. I stayed until 2003 when I kinda retired. I played Mister Mom for a little while. And eventually I came back to Adelphi.

My colleagues call me a freak because I take my computer home every night. Nobody else does that. I’m probably the only one that has a laptop; everyone else has a desktop. I get thousands of emails, all these news agencies send me emails. I’m constantly calling other universities trying to keep up on everything.

I learned how to “network,” you see … So we get together and if something happens on their campus we get bulletins of intel from them advising us to watch out for certain things — it’s usually Hofstra and St. John’s, they’re good friends to us, and sometimes we ask for advice. What are you guys seeing? Have you done any interesting drills and training? We shoot each other emails, we call each other out of the blue to pick each other’s brains. I get the same calls from them and I watch the goings-on in all of the eastern coast. I’m on the board of this group called the Northeast Colleges and Universities Campus and Security Association. It covers Maine to Maryland and as far west as Ohio. We have a conference every June with campus directors and their staff. During the last conference, a girl that survived the Virginia Tech shooting come in to explain how she survived.

The fear of a mass shooting on campus is the kind of disaster that keeps us up at night. We have an open campus. There’s no fencing because it’s a welcoming environment.

When that girl spoke, it was very, very emotional. She was shot three times. She said it sounds like someone’s chopping wood. She ended up at the back of the class where she played dead. That saved her. She described when the first bullet hit her in the shoulder, that it was the most burning sensation that she ever had. And then she just watched the other 16 people get shot and die.

She touched on the fact that there’s a lot of flags that weren’t caught. The assailant did some writings in class and everybody passed him along. Because of her, because of this shooting, colleges really examined their threat-assessment protocols, because this guy slipped through the cracks. He was posting videos, his parents knew a lot about his illness and all. So, now, when someone gets an incident or writes something concerning, the teacher reports it to us. If it’s an emergency, our team goes out out — any time, 24 hours. They’ll be counseling in there, they’ll be public safety, the dean of students, health services, there could even be the police depending on the severity of the issue.

Our sexual-assault protocol? We would bring in counseling right away to make sure the student has the utmost comfort and the victim is well taken care of. A lot of times they don’t want to speak to a public-safety officer or police, so we would bring counseling in, a nursing staff that’s 24 hours a day. We would treat them and deal with them and it’s up to them if they want us involved, or the police. We can’t force them. We also have a Title IX coordinator, so she would make the determination as well. After an incident like that, we would probably review the way we handled it to see if there’s something that we could have done better or to assist the victim more.

We have almost 430 cameras on campus. There’s not many areas that are not covered other than dormitory hallways.

I think social media has changed things. We tend to find out a lot more information. I really like it. When there’s an active shooting or something going on, I go onto Twitter and find out exactly what people are tweeting what’s happening to them. I think social media has helped us. Not only just for investigations, but I mean I follow every local college in the area, so if anything was to happen, I would get an alert that something’s going on. I’ll actually watch the students tweet to get the story. Back in the ’80s, we had very few cameras, if anything. It wasn’t swipe access, we didn’t have alarms on doors and windows and sensitive areas, we didn’t have panic buttons back then. It was just a bunch of guys that kept patrolling around in circle and circle.

If we were asked to investigate a sexual assault, we would probably go to the cameras and try to see what happened if we can, if it happened in a common-area type of thing. After dealing with someone like this, it affects us as well. Especially us that have daughters and sons, so there are times when we can rely on counseling ourselves.

I was pretty involved in 9/11 as a volunteer fireman, and that didn’t bother me. I saw deceased people. I pulled people out of burnt buildings. My instinct is to protect.

One of the perks of my job is the free tuition. I have two sons. My oldest came and he lived on campus. One day at three o’clock in the morning, he pulled into the front gate and I saw his car on the security camera. I went outside and said, “All right, get out of the car! Come on! Put your hands on the car!” I did a big to-do about it. I went on: “It’s three o’clock in the morning — where the hell are you guys going?”

My son was like, “Dad?!”

I was like, “I don’t care, hands up on the car.”

His friends were confused like, “Mr. Hughes, come on, what are you doing?”

Once I put the floodlight into his window because he came back to his dorm room at four in the morning.

It says it all that there are officers here who have been in the same job for 40 years. Guys at other universities gotta handle protests when there are things going on with the political climate. And you can see, they’re like, biting their tongue. Here? I haven’t felt that once.

Sometimes I’m in the living room with my wife and I can’t help it, I’m in disaster-preparedness mode. I’d say, “Okay, see that exit door there? If something happens, you crawl to that door, I’m going after the guy.” She’s like, “Oh, you really know how to make a night romantic.”

The Campus Security Director Who Fears a Mass Shooting