College ready for crisis
April 21, 2007
__The College’s crisis management team is working to increase emergency preparedness__
According to Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler, the College has a crisis management team with a set series of response procedures in the event of an emergency on campus. Prior to the shootings Monday at Virginia Tech, the crisis management team was taking steps to improve communication with students in the event of an emergency.
p. “We are really excited about implementing a new system about getting the word out to students,” Sadler said. “We’re planning a system of e-mail communication with voicemail messages as back up.”
p. Sadler said that the crisis management team is in the process of discussing and completing a contract that would give the College new message transmission technology. The system would allow, in the event of a crisis, an individual to send out messages to students through voicemail, text messaging and e-mail. The messages would all go out to everyone at the same time.
p. “The system is not like a computerized e-mail system,” he said. “The messages to students would go out simultaneously.”
p. He said that the problem with sending messages through e-mail is that it can take two or three hours for the information to reach students. In addition to being able to send out three different messages simultaneously, the system would be able to track if students did not answer their room phones or if the messages did not get through.
p. Sadler said that he hoped within a few days the College would have a contract to speed up the implementation of this service. He said he was unsure of when the system would be in place, but he talked to Information Technology Wednesday morning and is hoping to have negotiations finished soon.
p. “It would certainly be good if we could get it in place before next year,” he said.
p. The Board of Visitors discussed the College’s emergency plans at a special session at Thursday’s meeting. They held both an open and a closed session. BOV Rector Michael Powell said that the closed session was important in order to keep some plans secret.
p. “A lot of this we don’t want out,” he said to the Board. “[There are things] you don’t tell the enemy.”
p. The BOV discussed at length the potential of the new communication system. Sadler stressed that it was important for the College to have an effective system of student communication.
p. “A system like this could make a real difference,” he said. “With a new system, it would take an instant to call everybody. If you have a cell phone number, no matter where you are, the message can reach you.”
p. Addressing concerns of members of the Board, Sadler and other members of the crisis management team offered suggestions as to how to make the program most effective. One crisis management team member suggested ensuring all classrooms be equipped with phones to ensure the message reaches all students. Some BOV members suggested looking into a campus-wide alarm system.
p. “Our fire alarm system has a voice message system,” Chief of Police Don Challis said to the BOV. He added that in case students were outside and could not be contacted that there were ways of officers in police vehicles to signal to students.
p. “However, no system is going to contact everyone,” he said.
p. Sadler added that starting this year, the College has required students to give a local telephone number and address in order for the crisis management team to be able to best contact students in the event of an emergency.
p. Powell stressed at the meeting it was important for the College to find ways of not only informing students of an emergency, but also giving them instructions.
p. “If [one-third of the students] see this message, they will become the network,” he said. “The fire will go fast if you can populate it to enough people.”
p. Director of News Services for University Relations Brian Whitson said he had witnessed a demonstration of the new technology and called it “impressive.”
p. “They demonstrated it in a meeting and, all at once, our cell phones rang instantly,” he said.
p. Nichol commented on the events at Virginia Tech and said that the safety of students was of the College’s “greatest concern.” He emphasized that the crisis management team had done a good job of responding to student needs in the past.
p. “Our job now is to be more vigilant,” he said. “Plans must be improved and they can never be seen as complete.”
p. Sadler emphasized that the crisis management team went into effect at the College immediately after the school found out about the tragedy. The student mental health center changed its hours in order to accommodate students.
p. He added that the events at Virginia Tech will cause colleges to look at the systems they have in place and see what changes should be made and said that he didn’t want to speculate too much about what the College would do in a similar situation.
p. “I don’t think that helps them right now,” he said. “I feel so sorry for them, it’s almost like a circus environment with all the media on campus. What-ifs are complicated.”
p. He did say had a similar event happened on campus as the police would have been notified and dispatched immediately.
p. “Initially we [probably] would have sealed off the building,” he said. “At least we would have sealed off the floor area. But, it’s hard without all of the details.”
p. He added that the crisis management team has dealt with several emergencies in the past and has had a lot of practice. He pointed to Hurricane Isabel and most recently, the gas leak in Rogers Hall last semester. However, he said that there were always chances for the College to improve its system.
p. “[Virginia Tech] is a teachable moment for all of us,” he said.