The extreme events at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois have prompted universities—including ours —to look more critically at their emergency management plans and to determine what steps can be taken to prevent incidents from occurring in the first place.
Prevention is central to our approach. For starters, we are communicating better so that we can identify problems early and prevent them from worsening. For instance, a work team with representatives from Student Affairs; the Counseling Center; Health Services; the Office of General Counsel and the Police Department meets weekly to assess and address potential threats before they become problems.
In addition, a cross-functional team that includes faculty members and students meets weekly to review recent police reports and safety issues to determine if our response has been full and complete. Further, a new university-wide safety committee reviews safety and security policies and recommends improvements.
Of course, there will be those rare instances in which emergencies do occur. We are developing and expanding our emergency plans that will guide our response to and recovery from the spectrum of crises — blizzards to blackouts to bomb threats. Here is a summary of the work that has been completed:
Our police and safety personnel are well trained to respond to a range of emergencies. We benefit by our close ties to city and county emergency agencies.
From Virginia Tech and elsewhere, we have learned that the best way to alert people of a problem is through redundant means. We have launched a free, emergency text-messaging service and enhanced our ability to communicate emergency information by e-mail, the Web and the phone. The old saw remains true: The best ways are often the simplest, which is why we have enhanced our outdoor warning system, and we are working to make the warnings audible inside many of our buildings.
Response training has begun for faculty, staff, and students.
Emergency Operation Centers have been enhanced to give our crisis teams the optimal space and tools to manage a situation.
Our administrative leaders are receiving National Incident Management System training to help them understand how they will work together and with safety forces in the event of a large-scale emergency.
Our approach to emergency management is comprehensive: We will be prepared for situations that were unimaginable years ago. However, at the same time, we'll be working to do all we can to identify and mitigate situations before they become troublesome.