CAMPUS LIFE AND SAFETY AND SECURITY (CLASS) TASK FORCE 2008 fINAL Report
Subcommittee Reports - Response
Scope of Work
The Response Subcommittee was tasked to “review and evaluate current safety plans” and is comprised of university police chiefs, public safety directors, faculty with expertise in criminal science and emergency response, public health professionals and officials from the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security.
The massacre at Virginia Tech, undeniably horrific, is not the first campus tragedy played out in the national media. The 1970 Marshall University and 2001 Oklahoma State University plane crashes that took the lives of so many; the 1999 collapse of the Texas A&M bonfire; Seton Hall’s dormitory fire the following year that killed three students; the University of Texas tower shootings in 1966 followed by Kent State four years later – many of us can recall these events. However, prior to Virginia Tech, there was little training for campus leadership, student personnel and faculty on how to respond swiftly and appropriately to such tragedies. Postsecondary education faculty and staff lacked comprehensive understanding of young adult grief, securing and informing the campus community, adequate and compassionate response measures for grieving families, and as it relates directly to the work of the CLASS Task Force, statewide guidelines and protocols.
It is estimated that 6,000 college-aged adults die annually in the United States.1 The reality is that most of those young adults die as the result of an accident or, secondly, by suicide. Therefore, our ability to respond to these unfortunate but much more likely events is just as critical to the work before the CLASS Task Force. Furthermore, campuses can sustain devastation without the loss of human life. Just recently, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College flooded – six feet of water on the football field, dormitories ruined, records lost and the Environmental Protection Agency canvassing the grounds to assess biohazard dangers.
Response to any of these events requires multilateral measures – security, dissemination, counseling for our students, staff, students’ families and the wider community. Yet, prior to the 1990s, little was written on how student affairs staff specifically should train for and implement response measures to campus violence, accidents and disasters. In 1972, Death and the College Student was published at Harvard – a collection of student essays on their experiences and perceptions of death. Jossey-Bass printed Coping with Death on Campus in 1985.2 Beyond these two publications, there has been very limited published research on campus response to tragedy.
College student mental health counselors expanded their knowledge of young adult suicide, reckless behavior and mental illnesses in the 1990s. Unfortunately, this rarely translated to training of campus leadership, resident hall staff and other student affairs personnel. In the wake of thousands of student injuries and deaths due to alcohol consumption that received considerable media attention in the latter half of the decade, many campuses developed or greatly enhanced what are commonly referred to as CIRTs – critical incident response teams.
Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence demonstrates that higher education personnel sense that they are still unprepared. What should a resident hall advisor say to floormates when one student stabs her roommate and then hangs herself in the shower?3 What do we expect from our faculty when a bomb threat is called in?4 What is our notification protocol if we are the ones to inform a family that their child has been killed by a drunk driver?
The sheer number of “campus crises” task forces and workshops currently taking place attests to our collective sense that we have a professional obligation to implement procedures, protocols and training for multiple staff pools. One proactive approach is scenario work.5 Campuses with established CIRTs, such as the University of Central Oklahoma, Texas A&M University and Penn State Erie, make the deliberate choice to expose their staff to “what if” situations, much like first-responder training completed by firefighters, the Red Cross and hospitals. Staff may need guidance on:
- Prioritizing response tasks.
- Coordinating with first responders, hospitals, morgues, public affairs and the media.
- Meeting with students’ families and peers.
- Taking into account a student’s unique status – as an adult student, an international student, a student with a disability or so forth.
- Securing the site of a campus accident or crime.
- Notifying the campus of a student’s death – professors, student organizations, the bursar’s office, student records, parking, etc.
- Planning memorials – campus services, funerals or permanent memorials, such as scholarships, commemorative benches, memorial tresses or other recognitions.
- Assessing and responding to the staff’s sense of grief, shock and exhaustion when responding to a campus tragedy.
Scenario training works best when personnel are enhancing their preparedness yet are not expecting a critical incident because these events – a student’s suicide, a lab explosion – are rarely anticipated. Campuses often implement scenario work in two ways:
- First, taking actual campus events (from their own campus or others), deconstructing how the response took place, and evaluating what measures can be improved and what worked especially well. Distinct from traditional debriefing, deconstruction participants are asked to question why each event or action took place and to determine what the most appropriate response could have been.
- Secondly, pacing staff members through “mock events,” often without informing participants beforehand that the training will occur. For instance, staff may be asked to secure an athletic venue or practice working with a group of grieving students without any lead time to prepare.
Another practice gaining momentum is inviting first responders, community agencies and grief support networks to speak to campus staff. For example, emergency room personnel, the city morgue, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Parents of Murdered Children,6 OSHA ,7 the FBI, diverse spiritual leaders and suicidologists. Each of these enriches a campus’ ability to respond in a security-minded, timely, inclusive and compassionate manner.
Today, there is considerable public perception that our campuses are potential killing grounds (we should keep in mind that high schools endured the same criticism in the aftermath of mass shootings such as Columbine). Yet, the truth is that the vast majority of high school and college students die as the result of accidental deaths and suicides. Our response to campus crises is partly responding in the moment, but just as much, preparing to the best of our abilities. The events at Virginia Tech spurred campuses and higher education coordinating boards to review their critical incident response measures. We must ensure that our approach is holistic, recognizing the uniqueness of each campus, the diversity of our students and the resources that can be utilized by collaborating with one another and wider communities.
Discussion in the first meeting of the Response Subcommittee centered on how to best assess the ability of Oklahoma postsecondary institutions to respond to a crisis event on their campuses. Three approaches were discussed:
- Review of institutional emergency response plans.
- Campus assessment of their plans using the Campus Preparedness Assessment (developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness Unit).
- Modification of a survey previously used by the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security to assess security needs in K-12 schools.
Concerns were expressed within the Response Subcommittee (and other subcommittees) about the feasibility (in terms of time constraints) and capability (lack of expertise) of having the CLASS Task Force read, review and assess every emergency response plan for every Oklahoma postsecondary institution. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Campus Preparedness Assessment was determined to be more of a series of self-assessments and activities designed to assist campuses in developing response protocols rather than an assessment of actual established plans. To fully accomplish this task would require a year or more. As a result of these concerns, discussion migrated toward developing an assessment instrument. Therefore, an existing survey of K-12 security issues, previously used by the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security, was modified to assess postsecondary institution milieus. A review of the survey by other subcommittees garnered a few additional suggestions and wordsmithing.
The survey developed, “Self Assessment of Campus Security and Vulnerability to Acts of Terrorism,” contains several sections:
- Institutional Characteristics: Designed for statistical comparisons based upon campus size/enrollment, institution type and location (rural or urban).
- Planning, Policies and Procedures: Designed to determine the extent to which the institutions developed plans and procedures to address various crises.
- Emergency Response and Training: Designed to determine the capability of institutional staff and/or local community emergency personnel to respond to a crisis.
- Facility and Campus Maintenance: Designed to assess possible campus safety issues, including building access, storage of hazardous materials and alarm systems.
- Students and Staff: Designed to gauge how the campus trains students and employees in creating a safe and secure environment.
- Technological Capabilities: Designed to determine what mechanisms are in place to communicate with students in the event of an emergency as well as evaluate computer security, business continuity plans and access to electrical generators.
The CLASS assessment survey was instrumental in discreetly identifying issues of campus security and safety amongst Oklahoma’s postsecondary institutions. Based upon the survey results, the following recommendations are brought forward:
State Level, General Recommendations
- Develop a campus emergency response plan template for each postsecondary sector – career technology centers, community colleges and universities. A standardized template would assure that every campus appropriately covers all potential security and safety issues in their emergency response plans. In addition, a standard documentation structure would be extremely helpful to external agencies that may be called in to assist with large-scale incidents. Emergency plan elements to be addressed should include communications (with parents, media, faculty, staff and first responders), training on the plan, continuity of operations and blueprints of facilities, if applicable.
- Schedule emergency-response training annually, possibly facilitated by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education. Provide no-cost training to all postsecondary institutions and for multiple stakeholders: mental health counselors, residence and student life staff, community first responders, faculty, hazardous material teams, public relations personnel, campus health center workers, etc. Utilize outside resources such as emergency room personnel, bereavement support groups and mental health specialists to enhance training.
- Identify and consistently disseminate resources campuses can use for in-house training.
- Establish state-level review committee to evaluate campus plans every few years.
- Establish continuing entity to review campus security issues and to make recommendations. This entity will need to be financially supported as necessary. Entities mentioned as possible repositories include the CLASS Task Force, the CLASS Response Subcommittee and the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security. It is recommended that the CLASS Response Subcommittee remains a standing, advisory committee after the submission of their report to the governor’s office.
Specific recommendations generated based upon the results of the self-assessment survey (categorized by the specific area addressed in the survey)
- Planning, Polices and Procedures
- All institutions should have written guidelines in place on what to do in a series of emergencies. All hazards should be addressed in emergency plans – not just fires and tornados.
- Local law enforcement and other emergency responders should be involved in the development of the emergency plans.
- Every institution should have a crisis communication team that should meet at least monthly.
- Institutions should have a mental health recovery plan in place.
- Institutions should publicize a mechanism for addressing and notifying safety concerns.
- Emergency Response and Training
- Training should be conducted annually for faculty and staff on the emergency plans of the institution.
- Emergency plans and procedures should be exercised on a regular basis.
- Staff members need to be trained by law enforcement in the interception of and response to an intruder or intruders.
- Only 30 percent of institutions are NIMS (National Incident Management Systems) compliant.
- All institutions should be NIMS compliant. The Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security coordinates compliance guidelines and recommendations. NIMS training is often provided free of charge. It is critical that public safety officers who would respond to an event should be trained in NIMS. Additionally, administrators and senior officials should receive “NIMS for Senior Officials” training.
- Greater coordination is needed between higher education institutions and existing emergency and security agencies. There are several sources of federal funds which are currently being utilized in Oklahoma to address emergency preparedness. Institutions should seek out and coordinate with these existing emergency preparedness activities. For example, Emergency Management Performance Grants (EMPG) administered by the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security through the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management require annual exercises in local communities. NIMS training is currently being provided at multiple locations across Oklahoma and online to ensure Oklahoma remains NIMS compliant. Higher education institutions should take advantage of these and other emergency preparedness activities to maximize limited resources and promote greater collaboration with local responders.
- Facility and Campus Maintenance
- Blueprints and layouts of institutions should be kept on file both on campus and off campus. Copies of campus maps and building floor plans should also be shared with local fire emergency services and when possible in an electronic format.
- Several rooms and/or buildings should be designated for emergency response use ahead of time and these designations should be made known to local responders. Designations could include safe haven or shelter, command center and redundant energy sources.
- Emergency generators should be maintained at several locations depending upon the size of the institution.
- Great consideration should be given to access control systems. Depending upon the size of the facility, identification of visitors should be considered.
- Institutions should seek out and be familiar with the response resources which may be available in their local area.
- Students and Staff
- Institutions should maintain photographs of all students.
- Institutions should maintain emergency contact information for students, staff, faculty, facility managers and information on consulates for international students (including phone numbers).
- Technological Capabilities
- All institutions must have a continuity of operations plan.
- All institutions should back up all their data offsite.
- Notification systems should be part of any emergency response plan.
- Emergency generators should be maintained at several locations depending upon the size of the institution.
- Many of the activities needing to be done on Oklahoma’s postsecondary institutions to ensure greater safety and security can be done without cost.
- The safety and security training, equipment and personnel needs that will require funding vary greatly between institutions. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and the Department of Career and Technology Education should ask each of their institutions to determine and submit campus and security needs that would require additional funding.
1Iserson, K. (1999). Grave words: Notifying survivors about sudden, unexpected deaths. Tuscon, AZ: Galen Press. BACK
2Both are currently out of print. BACK
3This event took place at Harvard University in 1995. BACK
4For example, Tulsa Community College in March 2007. BACK
5Griffith, S. and Taylor Weathers, E. “Instructional scenarios for critical incident response team training” in College student death: Guidance for a caring campus (2007). Lanham, MD: University Press of America in conjunction with ACPA. BACK
6See POMC.org BACK
7Occupational Safety and Health Administration, a federal agency. BACK