Ever since attending college at SUNY Oswego and serving as chief of our campus ambulance (the first and longest-serving all student-run college ambulance – SAVAC) I’ve had a completely different perspective than most students on the community that is a college campus. This experience resonated with me through my emergency management career. As a result, I’ve paid special attention to colleges and universities; helping university police, college public safety entities, and other campus partners to be better prepared by providing training, supporting exercises, and reviewing plans. I’m fortunate to have friends and colleagues around the nation who are emergency managers for their colleges as well as those who are involved in emergency management degree programs which further the professionalism of our field. All these folks have worked hard to enhance their colleges’ preparedness through efforts not only targeting college faculty and staff, but also students – which can be a challenge with this regularly changing population. I’ve seen training offered to students ranging from CPR and First Aid courses, to Campus CERT (community emergency response team), to EMT training. These types of courses, offered to students, are certainly an investment, but one that can pay off not only for the campus community but beyond the campus when these students graduate.
Colleges and universities have a tremendous amount of resources. These resources allow a certain measure of self-sufficiency. I was reminded of this by a recent article about Tufts University working to keep their campus operational after Nemo. Campuses are truly communities, with hundreds or thousands of residents, hundreds of commuters, and an infrastructure to support it all including roads, facilities, healthcare, and food. Not only must they have emergency plans in place, but also business continuity plans. Largely, their number one hazard is fire – and colleges take fire safety very seriously – but they all have their own unique hazard profile which they must address just like any other community.
I have always encouraged colleges to work with their local communities and vice-versa. There are a number of case studies out there, certainly of local communities aiding campuses during fires, shootings, and other emergencies and disasters. But there are also instances of colleges helping the local communities. Not only do campuses have public safety resources (these encompass the entire range of law enforcement – from security guards, to peace officers, to police), but they also have some public works resources, and a vast number of potential volunteers that can all be deployed to aid a local community. Depending on the education the college provides, these volunteers can range from general labor, to those being trained as social workers, medical providers, veterinarians, and other professions which can provide direct assistance under the supervision of an experienced professional. This is not only a huge force multiplier to aid the community but also provides real, hands-on experience to the students. Likely an experience they will never forget. We’ve also seen colleges and universities provide assistance to local communities on-campus. Campuses have served as shelters (both in dorms and other facilities, such as gymnasiums) and feeding facilities through their dining halls. When off term, campuses have massive potential to serve as incident bases, supporting the needs of a larger incident by providing services for incident personnel and resources (remember your ICS training?) through their lodging and feeding capability, medical facilities, loading docks, garages and maintenance facilities, and even just their open spaces.
Colleges and universities have to ensure their own preparedness just like any other community, but they should also work with their local communities and even their county emergency manager on cooperative emergency management relationships. Local responders should be familiar with the campus, its hazards, facilities, and the people who operate it. The campus can further relationships by hosting training programs for area responders and emergency managers and should include area responders in any preparedness exercises they conduct. Engaging the student population in preparedness efforts will have great impact on the campus’s emergency program and will provide skills that the students will carry with them forever.