How Pittsburgh Colleges Enact Disaster Plans

Apr. 17--If a gunman went on a rampage at the University of Pittsburgh's Oakland campus, university police Chief Tim Delaney could lock 90 percent of the buildings with the touch of a button inside Pitt's new public safety building on Forbes Avenue.

Under the school's disaster plan, emergency responders would assemble with the university's public relations team. Pitt has 74 armed police officers, some of whom belong to a Special Emergency Response Team that trains with city police, Delaney said.

Officials at several colleges and universities in Western Pennsylvania said Monday their officers train regularly to respond to tragedies such as mass shootings or even terrorism. All have disaster and lockdown plans, but at least one school -- California University of Pennsylvania -- will review its plan in order to better coordinate with local police.

California Mayor Casey Durdines, 22, a senior political science major at Cal U, said the Virginia Tech tragedy makes it clear the university needs to coordinate with police in the event of a disaster. The school's 14-member police force will be armed this fall.

"It's my understanding that we have no written procedure or a plan of action coordinating efforts between university police and borough police," Durdines said. "I intend to bring the matter up. Hopefully, we will never have to use it. But in light of events occurring in today's society, I believe we should have such a plan of action in place."

At Pitt and other schools, students, faculty and staff would receive e-mails, and officials would post bulletins on Web sites. Administrators would call dorm advisers and academic department heads.

It's important to inform people quickly, officials said.

"If something like that happens, every parent from Maine to Maui will be calling to say they want to see their kid, and they want to see them now," Delaney said.

Pitt and neighboring Carnegie Mellon University -- along with Chatham College, Carlow University, Duquesne University, Point Park University and the Community College of Allegheny County -- are located in city neighborhoods.

That could be an advantage in dangerous situations, Delaney said. Authorities could close streets to keep them clear for emergency responders. Pitt has a campus-wide public address system, and its $6 million public safety building has nearly 400 cameras to scan the area.

"I have five hospitals surrounding me. We can quickly triage any injuries and get the injured quickly to the hospital," Delaney said.

CMU police Chief Creig W. Doyle didn't return calls for comment about the school's security and disaster plans.

Duquesne University's Director of Public Safety James J. Caputo refused to answer questions regarding the university's disaster response plan. University spokeswoman Karen Ferrick-Roman said the school added police officers and campus patrols after a September shooting that injured five Duquesne basketball students.

The crisis plan at Indiana University of Pennsylvania is "quite extensive," said Michelle Fryling, public relations director. "We will make public the things we need to make public," she said, using e-mail and a Web bulletin. The university's 18-member police force would coordinate with Indiana officers to secure buildings.

California University utilized its electronic alert system when the school was closed during winter storms, said spokesman Bruce Wald. "Of course, it doesn't compare to this tragedy in Virginia, but it shows how the system works."

The school's five new dormitories have state-of-the-art security systems, and are accessible only with a resident's key card swipe, Wald said. Two older dorms, which will be closed after this semester, have front-desk personnel.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.