Sept. 7, 2007
By George Mauzy
The Critical Incident Response Team and a number of other Ohio University groups spent time this summer developing the best strategies for dealing with major emergencies, a process that has yielded new capabilities and a list of developing and up-next projects.
Communications was a major focus, with other critical issues -- such as addressing potential active-shooter situations -- taking front and center.
The strategies that came to fruition include:
- CATVision alerts: The university now can take over all channels of CATVision to alert television viewers of an emergency on campus. A team of people on campus is trained to post emergency messages using a new cable override system. For less-critical incidents, the system also can take over channel 19 only. These alerts will run on any television on campus carrying CATVision; sets are in all residence halls and in many common areas other buildings.
- An emergency Web strategy: If an emergency should occur, an alternate server is in place to take over when traffic gets too great. It will have an alternative home page that loads quickly and contains critical emergency information. The standby can handle a higher volume -- how fast depends on circumstances -- and the alternative front page can be updated quickly, as a situation progresses.
- Emergency e-mail distribution: A process and procedure -- and designated personnel to deploy the system 24/7 -- is now established. Distribution is faster because the emergency system can shut down all other e-mail queues on campus during an emergency. Along with some other adjustments, the process will result is fast mail processing during an emergency.
- Active shooter preparation: Ohio University police officers recently completed state-sponsored active shooter training and a series of simulations. The department also plans to post, on its Web site, www.ohio.edu/police, guidelines on what to do during an active shooter situation along with other safety information.
- Text message test project: This summer at Precollege, interested students began providing their cell-phone numbers and cell providers for an emergency text-messaging test using the university's emergency event notification (EEN) software. The test will run in late September once a sufficient number of students sign up. Since the spring, this method of communicating with students had gotten a lot of attention, but there are potential glitches that could occur when used on a large scale. The EEN system must prove capable of quickly delivering a text message to the university's about 20,000 students before it is fully implemented. The university also has loaded the numbers of critical groups in the university that would need to kick into action immediately in emergencies.
- Case Review Committee: This summer a group -- made up of representatives from University Judiciaries, Ohio University Police Department, Counseling and Psychological Services and the Dean of Student's Office -- developed a review process to ensure that cases involving students displaying at-risk behavior receive timely evaluation and response.
Other emergency communication projects in progress:
- A new emergency Web page at www.ohio.edu/emergency that will carry important emergency information at all times and specific messages and alerts during a university crisis situation. The site will be found at www.ohio.edu/emergency and will be online within two weeks.
- An on-the-ground emergency team comprising people responsible for manually delivering messages or helping to carry out essential tasks on campus during an emergency.
- An emergency call-in number carrying a recorded message during active emergencies. This also will be available to provide information in less critical circumstances, such as a snow emergency. The line will have a capacity limit for the number of calls it can take at once; the CIRT team will assess optimal capacity versus cost.
- A computer database of the blueprints for university buildings that can be used during an emergency. Facilities Management staff is working on this project.
- A mass notification system (which includes a siren-volume alert tone and public-address capabilities) that will broadcast across campus. A team is working on the logistics, with a target installation date of next spring. A request for proposals is being developed. Timing for this strategy is still in flux because there are a limited number of leading suppliers for these systems, and the demand for them is high.
The university also plans to use a software tool, called the Living Disaster Recovery Planning system, to create an electronic inventory of the emergency response plans for all planning units on campus. The goal is to complete 50 emergency plans each year.
"None of these communication methods are a slam-dunk solution for notification, but the goal was to develop as many as we can to alert people of an emergency on campus," said CIRT member Duane Starkey, director of the business office and special projects in the Office of Information Technology.
CIRT is a small group of Ohio University employees who meet regularly to plan and prepare to provide leadership during any type of emergency situation involving the university. All CIRT members have undergone National Incident Management System training that taught them command reporting structures, common terminology and roles and responsibilities used in an emergency response operation.
"There are three things that must be accomplished quickly during any major emergency situation -- identification, analysis and implementation," said Assistant Vice President for Safety and Risk Management David Hopka, CIRT's team leader. "All the strategies here will make that easier."