Training for turmoil

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Illustration by Estefania B. Alonso

Drills and critical thinking are key in emergency planning, says risk management director.

By Valerie Champion

When students, staff and faculty face emergency scenarios such as campus shootings, panic can set in very quickly.

Even with extensive emergency planning, every scenario plays out according to its unique circumstances, an Alamo Colleges expert recently said.

Gun violence on U.S. college campuses has more than doubled in the last five school years, according to a report this month by the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City. There were 30 such incidents in 2015-2016, compared with 12 in 2010-2011.

Mike Legg, Alamo Colleges director of enterprise risk management, said rather than have processes set in stone for every situation, his department must teach people how to react and think critically in emergency scenarios.

Those scenarios can occur on campuses from elementary schools to universities.

Two North Carolina university students were killed in a shooting at an off-campus house party Sunday in Greensboro, N.C., the Winston-Salem Journal reported. Last week, two shootings near the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign killed one and injured four, according to The News Gazette in Champaign. In Texas, a high school shooting occurred Sept. 8 when a freshman at Alpine High School entered the campus, shot and wounded another student and killed herself, according to a report from CNN the following day.

Scenarios like this are understandably frightening to faculty and students alike, and can lead to questions about how emergency management handles what Legg calls “worst case scenarios,” such as active shooters.

As easy as it is to pigeonhole emergency management services, they deal with a wide range of incidents, and active shooter scenarios are only one of the aspects they prepare for. Others include fires and severe weather emergencies.

“Our work is a lot broader than that,” Legg said. “We could dissect that environment (of the Alpine shooting), but it likely wouldn’t happen the same way again.”

Legg said his department relies on drills that attempt to convey the sense of critical thinking in reaction to emergency situations for the general population.

“No matter how hard we try, there’s always some chaos involved,” he said.

Legg said there are four different phases in emergency management. Prevention and mitigation use preventive tools to help make people aware of situations as they develop. Community outreach by the department is a huge factor in these phases.

“It’s all about planning,” Legg said. “We try to be as prepared as best we can.”

Additionally, responsiveness is a big factor in how this college handles emergency situations. Legg said emergency management services work in tandem with campus police to be as responsive to situations as possible.

Finally, the recovery phase details how emergency management services deals with the aftermath of emergency scenarios.

“We can’t control the disaster, but we can have a plan in place to get the campus back to being operational … as quickly as possible,” Legg said.


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