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Campus Safety Conference Provides Lessons in Emergency Preparedness

Experts shared their experiences with emergencies and gave advice to attendees as part of the emergency preparedness forum.

The 2017 Campus Safety Conferences are officially in the books after our show in Long Beach came to a close August 1.

This year’s conferences gave attendees the opportunity to hear from and speak with dozens of experts during keynote addresses, educational sessions, tabletop exercises and much more.

As always, the Campus Safety team had a great time meeting the people that make up our readership and learning from school security experts around the country.

One of the most insightful discussions occurred during the Long Beach expert forum Keys to Effective Emergency Preparedness. The panel consisted of nationally recognized experts in emergency management and officials with firsthand experience responding to campus emergencies.

Each of the panelists gave advice on emergency preparedness based on their experiences in the field, providing attendees with a diverse set of perspectives and an exhaustive list of lessons learned.

Below we give an overview of the discussion and review some of the messages panelists delivered to attendees.

Speakers Share Personal Experiences

Kristina Anderson

Anderson is a Virginia Tech shooting survivor and Executive Director of the Koshka Foundation. Anderson was shot three times during the attack and has since dedicated herself to helping school officials improve school safety and support services for victims of various tragedies.

As part of the panel and during her keynote speech, Anderson walked attendees through the little decisions she made on the morning of the shooting that ended up having major consequences, like the decision to wear closed-toe shoes and sit in the back corner of her class.

Anderson also commended the actions taken by Wendell Finchum, the police chief at Virginia Tech at the time of the shooting, and said Virginia Tech took several steps in response to the shooting that were particularly helpful in aiding her recovery.

For instance, the school created an Office of Recovery and Support soon after the mass shooting. Employees at the new office acted as personal campus liaisons to each victim, meeting them on campus and even visiting their hometowns.

Virginia Tech also gave advanced phone calls to the victims that remained on campus in the years after the shooting before sending any campus-wide alerts to the community.

“[The advance notification] gave us the opportunity and time to ask questions, so we weren’t just getting 140 characters,” Anderson recalled. “That was very helpful because it gave us a chance to plan our personal response.”

Perhaps most importantly, Anderson says Virginia Tech helped with her recovery long after the shooting and urged attendees to do the same for victims of tragedies on their campuses.

“Make a benchmark time to reach back out to people affected by these things, because everyone’s going to deal with trauma differently and on different timelines,” Anderson said. “Just be as inclusive as you can.”

Michelle Gay

Gay is the mother of Sandy Hook shooting victim Josephine Gay and Cofounder of Safe and Sound Schools. Gay recounted her experience on the day of the shooting, including her thoughts after receiving a brief, automated phone call from the school district informing her that there’d been a shooting at one of the schools in town.

The call predictably caused a large amount of confusion and panic as parents tried to get more information on their own and from the media.

“The initial communication needed to be more specific and include ‘We will follow up at this time or through this website’ or whatever multimodal channels of communication you can set up,” Gay said.

Another thing Gay stressed to the audience is the importance of redundancy in emergency plans. Many administrators were shot in the early stages of the Sandy Hook attack, leaving fewer people on campus capable of carrying out emergency procedures.

Gay shared several other lessons learned from the tragedy at Sandy Hook, some of which are listed below:

  • Emergency protocols need to take into account the stressful nature of emergency situations. Gay noted that Sandy Hook’s lockdown protocol seemed to work fine during drills but it wasn’t a practical response with live fire going on immediately outside classroom doors.
  • Whatever your role is in the community, when an emergency occurs, you are a first responder
  • Simple measures like basic classroom locks or putting paper over a classroom door’s window can save lives
  • Communication with parents, the media and between emergency responders is critical to an effective emergency response

Mark Littlestone

Littlestone is a lieutenant with the UCLA Police Department. Lt. Littlestone talked specifically about UCLA’s experience when a 30-inch water main near campus burst in 2014, sending eight to ten million gallons of water onto campus and causing $13 million worth of damage.

The flooding impacted UCLA’s gymnasium, athletic fields and parking garages, creating a dangerous situation for students attempting to leave campus. At the time, UCLA had no search and rescue team

“A major percentage of the campus was affected by the flood, and we had to determine what kind of damages we’d sustained and how to respond,” Lt. Littlestone remembered. “Train your dispatchers to ask the right questions when unexpected events occur on campus.”

Littlestone also discussed a murder-suicide on campus that left an associate professor dead. Littlestone was the incident commander at the time of the incident.

“We had massive support from folks in surrounding areas, including over 350 law enforcement officers from many different agencies,” Lt. Littlestone said of the murder-suicide response. “So we had to coordinate that. Cops are going to get there no matter what, and if you don’t have the means to communicate with them they’re going to look for threats on their own. That quickly becomes a problem for you.”

One point of confusion for responding officers was that UCLA officials refer to the second floor of the building where the shooting occurred as Floor One. Not all law enforcement officers working off of blueprints understood that.

Following the shooting, which exposed deficiencies in classroom locking among other things, UCLA upgraded general assignment door locks, created a Campus Safety Task Force and improved it’s Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) and Crisis Response Team (CRT).

Experts Share Insights From the Field

Paul Timm

Timm is the Vice President of Facility Engineering Associates and an emergency planning consultant. As a board certified Physical Security Professional (PSP) and the author of School Security: How to Build and Strengthen a School Safety Program, Timm is a nationally acclaimed school security expert.

Timm began by talking about the significance of getting commitment from school officials to improve campus safety.

“If teachers are complaining about drills being a waste of time, that’s not a teacher problem, that’s an administrator problem,” Timm said. “You need top down buy in so the superintendent, principal and everyone else is on board during drills; you play like you practice.”

Timm also talked about the importance of having B and C incident command teams to stay prepared for emergencies that might occur outside of regular school hours or when people are on vacation.

He also stressed the importance of working with local agencies to maximize the effectiveness of communication systems.

“We all have great notification systems, but we’re rarely connected to the community like we should be,” Timm said. “I wonder if we’re thinking about collaborating in a way that lets us share the benefits of these great communication systems we’re all investing in.”

Jeffrey Cugno

Cugno is a special agent for the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. Cugno focused on threat assessments and praised the efforts of campus protection officials, saying it’s the FBI’s job to empower such people to continue improving the security structures they have in place.

“In the last ten years I’ve seen a really nice evolution of programs in threat assessment and management,” Cugno told attendees. “We can’t quantify the work you’re doing, but we do know there’s success there and you can see it.”

Cugno said an effective threat assessment process starts with gathering as much input as possible to develop context around a person’s behavior.

“The IDing, assessing, managing, all this needs to be done in a multi-disciplinary manner, campus safety can’t do it by themselves” Cugno explained. “If we don’t work together, we can’t see all of the data points and connect all the dots. Even if the nurse or janitor or law enforcement officer isn’t in the assessment meetings, their input is important. Fortunately, the sharing of information is becoming more seamless and people are becoming more educated as a result.”

Cugno also talked about the importance of appropriately responding when someone’s behavior may pose a threat.

“Expulsion or banning someone from campus might be necessary, but what comes next?” Cugno asked attendees.

Having proper consideration for the victim is another area Cugno said school officials must get right.

“One thing I see across the board is the idea of humiliation with reports, because the gossip mill churns on campuses,” Cugno said. “Maintaining confidentiality will pay huge dividends. If you’re not seen as safeguarding information why would someone give you information?”

Training Is The Common Thread

The unifying message coming from all of the panelists was the key role that training plays in emergency preparedness.

“At the height of an emergency, everyone defaults to whatever training and knowledge we’ve been given,” Gay said.

Gay compared all-hazards training now to fire drills that became standard after the 1958 fire at Chicago’s Our Lady of Angels School. Timm also referenced the Our Lady of Angels fire and noted that no child has died in a school fire since that tragedy because of the effectiveness of fire drills.

“I try to point out with the success rate of fire drills,” Timm said. “We need to carry that success over to other types of incidents.”

Timm says schools shouldn’t start emergency preparedness training with a full blown active shooter exercise, but rather something more manageable like a tabletop exercise. After executing that, school officials could conduct a contained drill. Timm says he’s seen benefits from schools carving out three minutes of every staff meeting to discuss emergency preparedness procedures.

“There’s only two times when we learn if our emergency strategies work,” Timm told attendees. “One is when an emergency is going on, which is pretty inconvenient, and the other is when you practice with drills.”

Lt. Littlestone says he now runs Incident Command System (ICS) drills with administrators every quarter, including a B team in the drills for redundancy.

“It’s a slow process training everyone, but training works, period,” Lt. Littlestone said. “Anything you can give to folks on campus helps, whether it’s Run, Hide, Fight or anything else. You have to train these people to play a part.”

All of the panelists discussed mistakes they’ve made personally or seen others make to help attendees learn from their experiences and avoid similar pitfalls.

That’s one of the reasons we believe events like the Campus Safety Conferences are so valuable. By connecting thought leaders in the industry, Campus Safety hopes security professionals are able to better themselves and make their campus communities safer.

With our conferences in Dallas, Philadelphia and Long Beach, we believe we accomplished that goal, and we’re excited to see everyone again next year!