Generating National Headlines

Generating National Headlines

Disasters can cause adversity; officials must effectively manage

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.


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 or communication.

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 personnel.


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.


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.


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.


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 possible.

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 generation’s’ learning style with animation and interactive teaching. State and federal requirements are met and the training helps to lower the liability of the institution by creating a report of every student and faculty’s successful completion of training which can be done 24/7 from any computer.

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., and they are taught to protect themselves from life threats.

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 to an institution’s website and can, in many states, allow local fire 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 is priceless.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of Security Today.


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