On April 20, people from around Rensselaer came together to remember those who died during the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech. Administration, staff, and students bowed their heads together in remembrance. They also began an important conversation about how Rensselaer can improve emergency communication and planning. Since the events at Virginia Tech, universities around the country, including Rensselaer, have stepped up emergency planning efforts to protect their students, faculty, and staff in an emergency.
The campus community will come together again at a Fall Forum to discuss the work completed over the summer to protect campus safety in case of emergency. The forum will give members from the community an opportunity to learn about emergency planning efforts under way and to discuss overall issues affecting campus safety. A date and time will be announced soon.
Staff and academic leadership from around campus have been working throughout the summer to make progress on a Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan. Director of Public Safety Jerry Matthews leads the Emergency Management Planning Committee that is working to develop the comprehensive plan. The committee includes leadership from all aspects of campus life including health services, public safety, finance, residence life, physical plant, academia, research, communication, and more.
“The plan will be Rensselaer’s marching orders in the face of an emergency,” Matthews says. “Public Safety officers know how to respond and are trained to deal with emergencies and, along with other staff and responding agencies, will give specific instructions to the greater campus community should an emergency hit campus. The plan will help us make sure the entire campus knows what to do in an emergency by giving incident-specific instructions, outlining how to continue operation of the campus during the emergency, and describing how to recover from the disaster.”
The plan will cover a variety of potential disasters on campus, from the outbreak of an infectious disease to a dangerous storm. It will set out a communication plan to alert the campus. It will also outline how all aspects of campus operation should respond to each emergency. To develop this aspect of the plan, the planning committee is organizing various tabletop exercises and drills.
“The drills are dress rehearsals,” Matthews says. “They are as close to the real emergency circumstances as we can get. And they are important to the planning process because we will invariably encounter problems and we can solve those problems before an actual emergency hits.”
On July 30, members of the faculty, staff, and administration came together for their first tabletop exercise, based on a fictional outbreak of pandemic flu on campus. During the exercise, a fictional scenario was presented to the participants: An outbreak of a deadly and contagious flu in Vietnam quickly spreads around the world and eventually strikes the Rensselaer campus. Participants in the exercise worked together to organize communication, emergency services, and disaster response. Some problems were encountered during the tabletop, Matthews says, pointing to areas where emergency planning and operations need improvement.
In addition to tabletop exercises, Public Safety is working to stage actual drills with the Troy Police Department. An upcoming joint drill with the Troy Police Department will stage a fictional terrorist attack on campus. The drill, scheduled to take place this fall, will involve Public Safety, Troy Police officers, Troy Fire Department, faculty and student volunteers, and even a SWAT team.
Staff and academic leadership from around campus
“We need to be able to work in sync with local and state police forces as well as other agencies to protect the Rensselaer community during an emergency,” Matthews says.
Improving overall campus communication infrastructure and procedure has been a large focus of emergency planning over the summer.
“We are looking at the communications channels that we have available and considering ways that they can be improved,” Matthews says. “We need to have a layered approach to communication that includes Web sites, e-mails, landline phones, cell phones, closed circuit television, and loudspeaker systems.”
The campus community is encouraged to attend the Fall Forum a date, time, and place will be announced soon. President Jackson and other campus leaders will address the community at the event and encourage communitywide participation in the emergency planning process as it continues to move forward.
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