Generating National Headlines
Disasters can cause adversity; officials must effectively manage
- By Frank Spano, JD
- Jun 18, 2020
It is no surprise that tragedies on college campuses generate
national headlines. Fortunately, active shooter incidents on
campus are extraordinarily rare events, and campuses remain
far safer than the community at large. However, shootings are
not the only concern.
Between 2009 and 2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an
estimated annual average of 3,870 structure fires in dormitories,
fraternities, sororities, and barracks, reports the National Fire
Protection Association (NFPA), Fire Analysis & Research Division.
“These fires caused an annual average of 1 civilian death, 32
civilian injuries and $14 million in property damage.”
Natural and manmade disasters are also a real possibility and
colleges and universities that experience such adversity will need
to be able to manage it effectively. Preparing for all hazards –
including fire and life safety events ranging from earthquakes,
hurricanes, wildfires, landslides, floods and tornadoes to civil unrest,
chemical emergencies, terrorism, and pandemic outbreaks
– means being ready for the inevitable.
A key element of a plan includes the steps campuses should
take after a disaster to help students, faculty, and staff recover. In
the wake of a campus fire, disaster, or catastrophe, what actions
and strategies are critical to the success of the recovery effort?
Just as each college class has required reading, a required document
for each and every college should be a comprehensive disaster
recovery plan that focuses not only on business continuity, but
personal recovery as well.
An overall recovery plan provides a framework within which
a college or university can manage the crisis, and create clear and
defined objectives for the institution’s recovery. These plans include
operational and strategic overviews to ensure that a crisis is
contained and controlled properly.
Management skills in communicating with staff, students, the
media, and the community, together with the ability of management
to determine post-crisis goals and recovery strategies, are
critical to the college’s survival prospects.
DISASTER RECOVERY PLANNING:
ONE SIZE DOESN’T FIT ALL CAMPUSES
The creation of a truly effective plan requires the partnership of
campus administration, municipal law enforcement and emergency
services, and campus police and security. Ultimately, effective
planning requires collaboration, foresight, diligence, and a plan
that is actively tested with mock disaster scenarios and exercises.
The National Incident Management System (NIMS) Incident
Command System (ICS) was developed to facilitate effective response
to a significant incident by collaborating governmental,
private sector, and non-governmental entities. The framework
was developed over 35 years ago after the tragic wildfires in California
when many agencies responded to the fires with little coordination
As a result, Congress directed the U.S. Forest Service to improve
the effectiveness of inter-agency coordination. ICS was the standard adopted by FEMA in March 2004 to guide overall
emergency management practices. Fast forward to the post-Virginia
Tech era, and we find that the International Association of
Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) has called
for adoption of this same NIMS/ICS template as a core strategy
in the blueprint for safer campuses across the board.
The Departments of Education and Homeland Security advise
that all key personnel involved in school emergency management
and incident response take the NIMS, ICS, and National
Response Framework (NRF) training courses and support the
implementation of NIMS. The NRF, developed by FEMA, focuses
on response and short-term recovery and prepares for and
responds to all-hazard disasters across all sectors of communities.
Schools should identify key staff to receive training based
on their roles and responsibilities in the overall emergency
management program as well as the specific responsibilities
related to emergency preparedness, incident management, and
response. These personnel include general, critical and leadership
ACTIONS DURING A CRITICAL INCIDENT
A very specific and specialized Critical Incident Management
System class was created by BowMac Educational Services, Inc.,
licensed to IACLEA and funded by Homeland Security. This
unique “simulation-based” training course features use of the
“7 Critical Tasks” in dealing with the immediate response to a
campus crisis. According to John McNall, president of BowMac,
getting the initial response right goes a long way towards setting
up for a successful recovery.
The goal of this response phase is to stabilize the scene prior
to attempting resolution. Specific actions to be taken by the incident
commander during a critical incident include:
Establish communication and control. Announce your command.
Move the incident to a dedicated frequency if possible. Size
up the situation as to “What am I dealing with?” Scope of fire, types
of weapons, numbers of suspects, chemicals and structural problems.
Identification of the “Hot Zone.” Early identification of the
“hot zone” results in the increased safety of the First Responders
and general public. A portion of the initial communication to
responders is to prohibit entry and movement in the “Hot Zone”
and tightly control any exit from the zone. (While the term “hot
zone” generally refers to an area that is considered to be dangerous
due to biological, chemical, or nuclear contamination, it also
references “ground zero” of the campus crisis – whether it is a fire,
a shooting or a pandemic outbreak).
Establishing an inner perimeter. Early establishment of perimeter
points will save responder and civilian lives. No unauthorized personnel
are to have access to the inner perimeter. If plainclothes personnel
are initially used on the inner perimeter control points, they
should be replaced with uniformed personnel as soon as possible.
Establishing an outer perimeter. By establishing the outer perimeter,
you are able to limit and control access into the emergency
incident area. Safe travel routes to and from the scene are
identified. Media information areas are established.
Establish a command post. The Incident Command Post
should be stationed between the inner and outer perimeter. It
may begin with the initial supervisors’ vehicle but should transition
to a good decision-making environment where commanders
from the various agencies can set up Unified Command using
the Incident Command System (ICS). (ICS is an on-scene, allhazards
incident management system actively used for years by
firefighters, hazardous materials teams, rescuers and emergency
medical teams. The ICS was established by the NIMS as the standardized
incident organizational structure for the management
of all incidents.)
Establish a staging area. The staging area is established between
the inner and outer perimeter and used to position resources
that will be required for resolution of the event. It is never
co-located with the command post and may provide a backdrop
for media briefings. Use of a staging area prevents gridlock and
accidental entry into the Hot Zone.
Evaluate and request additional resources. This crucial step
involves team assessment of the need for additional personnel,
equipment, agency support, or other specialized units. Early
identification, requests and staging of these resources will avoid
costly or dangerous delays during the incident.
Taking these simple steps in the initial phase of an incident
will pay huge dividends in the aftermath of an incident in reduced
casualties, property damage, crime scene protection, and the public
perception of the competence of the organization’s response.
DEALING WITH THE PERSONAL IMPACT
OF A MAJOR INCIDENT
There is a wide body of experience dealing with the personal
exposure and response to a major incident. Post-incident professional
counseling for personal issues requires mobilizing assistance
to those who might need support. Individuals will act
out differently. Quick and broad response to an incident will help
lower the stress that is certain to accompany a major incident.
A big challenge for staff is to avoid personalizing the tragedy,
as in ‘if only I had been in that room to stop it’ or ‘I wish I had
not taken a vacation day on Friday,’ etc. The recovery process
really starts at a community level and narrows its way through
affected groups and individuals.
TAP INTO TRUSTED NETWORKS
While there are a number of active organizations working to enhance
campus public safety, IACLEA maintains a longstanding
position as the leading voice in safeguarding educational communities.
IACLEA provides a clearinghouse for information and issues
shared by campus public safety directors across the country.
Membership in IACLEA is open to colleges, universities, and
secondary schools throughout the United States, Canada and
other countries, as well as individual campus law enforcement
directors and staff, criminal justice faculty members, municipal
chiefs of police, companies offering campus law enforcement
products and services, and individuals who support professionalism
in campus law enforcement administration.
The organization’s collaborations with the Departments of
Justice, Education, and Homeland Security – as well as with peer stakeholder organizations within Higher Education – have led to
much targeted guidance on dealing with all hazards on a college
or university campus.
CAMPUS SAFETY AND SHRINKING BUDGETS
When choosing the mix of security elements needed to protect a
campus and to minimize the after effects of campus calamities,
the inevitable ultimately rears its ugly head: the budget. Universities
need to find a cost-effective total solution for security that
ensures that staff, faculty, and students are as safe as feasibly
My company’s campus safety training is being offered to universities
across the nation to educate students and faculty in an entertaining
and, therefore, highly retentive way so that when an emergency
happens, everyone is prepared. Our training meets the ‘gamer
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State and federal requirements are met and the training helps
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It’s our passion to bring campus safety training to each campus
in an easy-to-use format for a nominal cost to the university.
The student is trained and tested on the correct responses to each
emergency such as fire, earthquake, weather, power outage, etc.,
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RJWestmore Campus Training provides cutting-edge technology
that is a must for any university concerned with the well-being and
safety of their faculty and students. This system requires no changes
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departments to access information on the way to an emergency;
thereby allowing them to get to the source of the emergency faster.
Engaging a contract security company that specializes in higher
education, trains their staff on the specific challenges and reporting
regulations of campus security, and that has the staffing
resources across the required geography is the best choice. Highly
experienced companies in this arena understand how their teams
can work in conjunction with campus police and area firefighters
and know how to create a strategy for the best possible security
solution to prevent and address campus calamities.
Serious natural disasters and man-made catastrophes demonstrate
that all the time and resources devoted to disaster resource
planning is essential to an educational institution’s
survival. Whether the road to recovery is a
quick jaunt or a marathon of a journey, the payoff
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of Security Today.