Blissfully Ignorant?

Morgan Harding, Print Editor

At the beginning of the spring semester, several professors walked into the Mercy Hall office of Robert Zavada, Associate Director of Campus Safety – not “new” faculty members, said Zavada – to ask if the university has emergency response policies to follow in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Dec. 2012.

Zavada said he gave them copies of the Emergency Response Desk Reference, a white, letter-sized folder that includes procedures for emergency notifications, fires, building evacuations, on and off campus evacuation sites, bomb threats, hostile intruder and other emergency situations.

The four-page document is available in the Campus Safety Office. Anyone can get a copy. The trouble is, most people don’t ask.

President Michael MacDowell feels that information distributed by the university is not received.

“We put out lots of information and people will say, ‘I didn’t get it.’ It’s on the portal, it’s on the website and they still say they didn’t know that. It’s constant. People don’t pay attention. We probably should do a little more with that, but it doesn’t matter what it is, people won’t pay attention.”

MacDowell said raising awareness about existing emergency procedures is necessary. One key time to distribute information is during first year orientation, he said. He also feels that there needs to be widespread information.

“I think if we’re going to do this, now is the time because we don’t have to back it up. It’s not because these things are happening on campus; it’s because these thing are happening and we don’t want them to happen here, and if they do we want to know exactly what to do,” he said.

At the beginning of the fall semester after the Aurora, CO. shooting, Zavada and other officials met to discuss creating a more encompassing training protocol. Zavada said during the three years that he has been a part of Campus Safety, his office has never had an emergency drill, unlike King’s College, which practices drills on a regular basis, according to Francis Hacken, Kings College Director of Campus Safety and Security.

One reason may be location, which is a crucial difference between the campuses. King’s is located in an urban area where foot traffic can easily bring unwanted trouble onto campus. King’s is also located in a municipality with a large local police department in close proximity to campus.

MU is surrounded by cemeteries on three sides, and it is home to a retirement center for nuns.

“The probability that [violent crime] will happen at Misericordia – one of 3,800 colleges and universities in the country – in little Back Mountain Pennsylvania is very, very low. So do you over-excite people and have them thinking, ‘Oh is there a threat here.’ You’ve got to walk a very fine line so you don’t cause rumors and panic to start versus giving helpful information that essentially tells people to keep calm and carry on,” said MacDowell.

On MU’s campus of 2,546 undergraduate students, Campus Safety officers are the only staff members who go through emergency protocol training, said Zavada. They do not carry weapons of any kind. Zavada said many Campus Safety officers are former law enforcement officers who have been trained to act in any situation.

Campus Safety Officers follow the standards of the PA State Police Lethal Weapons Certification, known as Act 235. Several officers have completed other Law Enforcement Academy training at the municipal and federal level – Pennsylvania Municipal Police Officer Education and Training Commission, known as Act 120 and the United States Marshalls Service Basic Training.

“Management members also obtain an annual certification through the Security on Campus organization related to Clery Act Compliance, a federally mandated requirement of the Department. of Education,” said Zavada.

Safety Officers also train Resident Advisors how to evacuate a building, no easy feat, according to Zavada. AJ Nudo, Assistant Director of Residence Life, said they receive training each year before the start of the fall semester. SAFETY2webedit - Copy

King’s, a Catholic college with an undergraduate enrollment of approximately 2,200, has a different protocol, including the National Incident Management System. These are national standards for handling major incidents.

“In a major emergency, you are working with other agencies and the whole thing with NIMS is that everyone has the same basic understanding of the situation when you go into it no matter where you are coming from,” said Francis Hacken, Kings College Director of Campus Safety and Security.

Officers at King’s are also ACT 235 certified. After 40 hours of training, this certification allows them to carry mace, collapsible batons and to use force.

For each level of use of force, safety officers must become certified and trained each year. Kings is considering having officers carry tasers, and this would require a higher certification level than included under ACT 235.

Hacken said King’s safety officers recently tested part of their procedures during an on-campus drill. Thanks to an in-house trainer, King’s officers can practice consistently, Hacken said.

“Our circumstances are different because by being in a suburban area, police response during a critical situation would come from several different entities. Dallas Township, Dallas Borough, Kingston Township, Harvey’s Lake, etc., are all located a relative short distance to campus, but they all have separate police departments. This does not mean that response times or effectiveness would be decreased, but coordination of these separate entities into a cohesive unit is somewhat more complicated. The various local police departments do operate under a cooperative agreement allowing for a seamless transition across jurisdictional boundaries,” said Zavada.

Each semester, MU officials do test the loudspeaker system, which is mounted on the roof of Mercy Hall. But Zavada feels the most effective way to reach students is through MU Alert, a text message-based alert system that can be used to send information to all subscribed users. The issue with MU Alert is that signing up is voluntary, and Zavada urges everyone to sign up for the system through e-MU.

Zavada said that if there was an emergency on campus, information would be sent out via MU Alert. The nature of the incident would determine the type of information that would be released to subscribers. Zavada cites this as a potential reason why the university does not release set-in-stone procedures.

Zavada offered several ideas to increase emergency procedure awareness. “In today’s technology-based world, improvements can be made by the way these items are linked and viewed on the campus website. Possibly a quick link could be added to MU Mobile, which would allow the user to view the protocols from their phone or other device from any area on or around campus, and not have to be in a building or signed in to a computer. Another option is to post a condensed version of the printed documents in an area of a building that we have designated as a safety location, much like in many areas that we group together a fire extinguisher, an AED unit, a fire alarm pull station, first aid cabinet, etc. People would then know that if they had a problem, that specific location in the building would be where to go for the tools and information you may need.”

He said that emergency procedures are not currently posted in classrooms.

“We pay attention to things that happen, not things that don’t happen. That’s no excuse for not doing more [education about procedures], but I feel that if you have a well-trained safety staff and generally your facilities people know what’s going on when you have lights out –we handle it relatively well. I think we can do a little more of it, but perhaps we should add that to orientation because it’s certainly an issue that people are unfamiliar with. If it can happen in the middle of Connecticut in a suburban area, it can happen anywhere,” said MacDowell.

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