Campus safety drills get updated for modern emergencies

by Wayne Stender
Posted 10/06/15, 02:55 pm

Biola University took a proactive approach to school violence last week, days before Thursdays deadly shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore.

Police and campus security joined forces in a campuswide school-shooter drill last Tuesday. Biola’s 120 building coordinators reacted to a security alert and students and staff streamed into buildings, locking doors and crowding into corners.

“Ninety-five percent of the people were indoors in five minutes,” La Mirada, Calif., Sheriff Kevin Beggs said. “It was very successful.”

Biola is one of the only schools in the Southwest to conduct a campuswide lockdown drill. The school gathered instructions for the test from eight sheriff’s deputies and 13 public-safety officers. The drill placed the mock shooter in the auditorium, where staff and students pretended to be injured or deceased. Email and text messages warned students of the mock scenario, calling classes to lockdown positions and pulling passersby to nearby buildings as emergency teams reacted to staged scenarios. Students received email and text messages when the drill finished 10 minutes after it started.

Michael Dorn calls the drills Biola practiced scenario-based simulations. He is the director of Safe Havens, a group working to outfit schools with better training, drills, and emergency plans.

“Many campuses are still using a 1958-style emergency drill” that doesn’t adequately prepare staff for a crisis, Dorn said. He referenced a 1950 incident in Chicago, when 95 students died in a fire at a school where drills were commonplace. Staff and students followed carefully detailed procedures for fire drills each month. “During these drills, more than 1,200 students and staff were able to evacuate the building in about three minutes,” Dorn noted. “The school had accidentally conditioned staff to evacuate when the alarm sounded, but had failed to condition them to be the person to pull the alarm.”

Dorn’s group is working with Campus Safety magazine to create a series of downloadable audio tracks with specific scenarios. The group encourages schools to send an audio track with a crisis scenario to a staff member to initiate a drill. “These audio scenarios enable you to identify and correct gaps before an emergency occurs,” he said.

Despite recent shootings on college and university campuses, the federal government does not have a standard for drills or emergency management at post-secondary institutions. In 2013, the federal government, working with the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services released a guide for emergency management, but there are no mandates for colleges and universities. Many states require schools to perform drills like in Michigan, where kindergarteners huddle under desks to practice safety. Michigan, however, has given universities a pass on performing tests of their emergency protocols.

“Since 2001, there have been 115 shootings on college campuses,” said John Ojeisekhoba, Biola’s chief of campus safety. “Almost no school or college is immune from this.”

Wayne Stender

Wayne is a World Journalism Institute graduate.

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