Disaster Preparedness & Recovery

Colleges Say They’re Ready for the Unforeseen Disaster

‘We’ve drilled and prepared for catastrophes like an active shooter.’

 

In light of the mass shooting near the University of California at Santa Barbara on May 23, officials from local colleges in New York said Tuesday that they consider themselves prepared for such an event, should it ever arise.

"If the unforeseen happens, we want to be prepared to ensure the safety of our students, maintain the security of our campus, and work with emergency responders to address whatever challenge confronts us," said Hal Legg, director of communications at the State University of New York College at Oneonta.

Legg said SUNY Oneonta has been conducting emergency simulations annually for several years, including simulated power failures, heat waves, suicides and terrorist acts. Last year, the University Police Department partnered with the Oneonta Public Transit to simulate a bus accident on campus, Legg said.

With the help of local police agencies, fire departments and other first responders, University Police lead the drills, which give participants practice in dealing with natural disasters and other dangerous scenarios, such as shootings, Legg said.

The college makes these drills as life-like as possible, Legg said, to best prepare students, faculty and staff. In 2012, the college set up an exercise simulating an active shooter in Milne Library, with students from the Theater Department playing various roles.

"Our goal is to continuously refine how we approach urgent situations," Legg said.

Hartwick College officials said they, too, have several plans in place in case of crisis.

Director of Campus Safety Tom Kelly said a "Shooter on Campus" training is given to all incoming students during Welcome Weekend, their first weekend on campus. The same training is given to all faculty and staff on an ongoing basis, Kelly said.

Trainings are also conducted with local first responders. Past drills have included shooter-on-campus and explosion-on-campus scenarios, Kelly said.

Joel Smith, vice president for college relations and advancement at the State University of New York College of Technology at Delhi, said ensuring the safety of SUNY Delhi students is the school's top priority.

"We have a broad-based approach to student safety," Smith said. "There's a comprehensive campus emergency response plan that details how we will respond to crisis scenarios. The plan, which is frequently reviewed and updated, engages all levels of the campus -- from leadership to emergency management experts to faculty and staff who interact with students on a daily basis."

Hartwick, SUNY Delhi and SUNY Oneonta all utilize a mass notification system called the NY Alert system to notify the campus communities via email, text message and phone call in the event of an emergency. This system is tested several times per year, Smith said. Colleges also use their social media sites to alert the campus communities.

SUNY Delhi's Criminal Justice program is an invaluable asset when it comes to preparation for crises, Smith said. The program hosts annual active-shooter drills that serve as "excellent" training sessions for students and law enforcement personnel. University Police also conduct workshops for faculty and staff members to help them understand how to recognize indicators of workplace violence and how to prevent and prepare for a violent intruder, he added.

In addition, the school's counseling and mental health staff provides regular training to the campus community on identifying and intervening with individuals needing assistance, Smith said. Communication is an essential part of planning and being prepared, he added.


©2014 The Daily Star (Oneonta, N.Y.)

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