Crisis Management on Campus

A guide to establishing and implementing a comprehensive crisis management plan with emphasis on training and technology

Normalcy is no longer the norm. Everyday life is being inundated with constant bombardment of news and events, seemingly negative at every turn. Is this the result of changes in societal mores’, or is it the result of the technological advances in reporting the news, along with the immediate use of texting, Twitter or Facebook?

Between April 2008 and April 2009, an alert notification system to my cell phone delivered 48 incident alerts regarding schools and universities across the nation with 13 involving bombings or bomb threats and 17 involving shootings. Between April 2009 and December of 2010, that same reporting system identified a total of 382 incidents with 113 involving bombs or bomb threats, 72 actual shootings and 59 relative reports of guns on campuses. Although there are additional months involved in the latter numbers, the relative increase is alarming. The question becomes, what can be done to prevent, mitigate and respond to these issues and who, as well as how many, are the responders?

You hear the term “first responder” when talking of those brave men and women who are usually the first on the scene ready to give assistance or mitigate an issue such as “going to the shooter.” These people are the ones who we rely on to fix the problem so we can resume our normal lives.

Still, the new norm in these situations requires us to acknowledge that we are on our own for at least the first 2-3 minutes when an incident occurs and there is chaos and panic. What skills do you have or someone else near you has to help stop the shooter, or provide medical first aid to those injured?

The recent shooting in Arizona underscores this issue. The person administering CPR and first aid to Senator Gabrielle Giffords was not a paramedic or other first responder — it was someone who had the skills to assist while the professionals were in route. As harsh as it may seem, you are on your own for those first few minutes.

This issue brings up two areas of concern: What can I personally do to help myself; and what can my company or institute (identified as educational institutions in general, K-12, higher ed and medical) do to assist me in surviving? The answer at Kennesaw State University in Georgia is the layered approach to program initiatives, training of personnel, equipment and technology.

Creating a Crisis Coordinator

In April 2007, I had just joined Kennesaw State as its AVP for Strategic Security and Safety, when on Monday, April 16, the infamous Virginia Tech shooting incident happened. The first thing we did was to assess what we have in place to mitigate a similar type of issue. Our in-house-certified Public Safety Department had some training in this type scenario, but we mainly relied on our relationship with the surrounding local police for assistance. The eye-opener was that the police were trained to go to the shooter and mitigate that activity, but they do not alert the 20,000-plus students, along with the 6,000 faculty and staff on the campus at any given time.

The initial solution, which has grown and matured over these three-plus years, has been to recognize that the police are there to stop the problem, while another separate organization — my department of Strategic Security and Safety — would be charged with training, mitigation, response and recovery of our crisis coordinator program: those boots on the ground in every building that we call our “immediate responders,” or Crisis Coordinators.

Crisis Coordinators are volunteers from every building on campus and are responsible for that building’s response to fires, alarms, medical emergencies and shelter-in/evacuation procedures. As with any large campus, Kennesaw State University is made up of 36 main buildings ranging from a single floor to four or more. In order to support the buildings during a medical incident, for example, all Automatic External Difibulators (AEDs) are strategically placed to where the Crisis Coordinators can get to the AED, return to the victim, and use the device within three minutes.

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