Jill Harris, Joe Adams and Andrew Powers make the decision to active CIRT or not.
May 2, 2013
By Corinne Colbert
When bad things happen around Ohio University, the Critical Incident Response Team does its best to protect lives and property and keep the community informed.
A critical incident is any event that could negatively affect the University and the community, significantly impairs University operations, and/or requires immediate action to communicate with the community and to establish safety. Critical incidents may involve working with specialized agencies (such as a hazardous materials team or SWAT) or individuals, such as chaplains, counselors or a medical examiner.
Such events generally have to be widespread to require CIRT’s assistance; for example, CIRT was not called to action on April 25 when an Ohio University employee opened a piece of mail containing an unidentified white powder. Because the incident affected only a small part of the West Union Street Office Building, CIRT was not activated.
The decision to activate or not falls is a collaborative one among CIRT Chair Joe Adams, associate vice president for Risk Management and Safety; OUPD Chief Andrew Powers; and Jill Harris, emergency programs manager. If they decide CIRT is needed, they notify team members by text message. Team members then report as quickly as possible to a designated location to help coordinate the University’s response.
Depending on the event, the entire CIRT membership may be called to action, or just those whose departments are directly affected by the event. Every team member must identify a substitute in case they are out of town or otherwise unavailable.
Since its establishment in 2007, CIRT has been activated six times, the most recent being the city water main break in February. The longest activation was for the July 2012 derecho, when CIRT members were on the job for 30 hours straight.
In addition to Adams, Harris and Powers, CIRT membership includes:
Ad hoc members of the team come from Legal Affairs, Student Health Services, and University Human Resources.
If that seems like a lot of people, it is—but every one of those people has a critical role to play, Harris said.
“This is a group of trained professionals who can evaluate the situation and make decisions,” she said.
That training includes not only each individual’s professional expertise, but also specific training in emergency management to include incident command training and emergency communication training. In addition, the team meets quarterly and does table-top exercises at each meeting.
Even with professional training and regular practice, though, the team undergoes baptism by fire. Post-event debriefings yield changes to procedures. For example, after the July 2012 derecho, the team expanded to include representatives from the city of Athens, such as Service Safety Director Paula Horan Moseley and Deputy Service Safety Director Ron Lucas.
By gathering all these resources in one space, Harris said, CIRT can ensure that everyone works together to see the University and the community through whatever crisis is at hand.
“We recognize the importance of having a coordinated response to emergency situations that may occur on campus or in the city of Athens,” Harris said. “By collaborating often, we have developed a working relationship between the city and the University that allows for a more unified response.”
Best practices in emergency communication indicate that text messages are usually delivered before any other more traditional types of communication.
If you want to learn about critical incidents right away, make sure your mobile number is registered with the University’s OHIO Alert system. This information is kept confidential; it is never sold to telemarketers or used for any purpose other than notifying individuals of critical incidents and campus emergencies.
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