Emergency Operation Team Studies Current Events To Strengthen Crisis Plan

Renee Ballenger

With the recent incidents of campus shootings, as well as natural disasters striking campuses across the nation, members of the UNK community have been asking questions about a campus crisis management plan.

UNK’s Emergency Operation Team (EOT) has been working over the last few years to prevent and respond to crisis situations of all kinds. The EOT has been studying the shootings that have occurred on college campuses as part of its continual analysis of its plan.

EOT members include representatives from Human Resources, Public Safety, Counseling and Health Care, Residential and Greek Life, University Relations, academics and student government. For example, Dr. Frank Harrold is an active member of the team who routinely communicates EOT issues to his fellow deans. Because of campus shootings in other parts of the nation, attention to classroom management and student care concerns is becoming increasingly important.

The EOT breaks down into nine subcommittees which address crisis management subjects including drill exercises, individual building evacuations, applications for crisis management grant funding and special environmental topics such as the avian flu.

In addition to an overall crisis management plan, the EOT also maintains plans to combat an avian flu outbreak, a crisis communications plan and a plan to deal with natural disasters.

John Lakey, director of Human Resources and one of the members of the EOT Executive Committee, said that a segment of the team was activated last winter during the Christmas and New Year ice storms.

“In evaluation of our activities during that environmental challenge, we found that we were well-prepared, especially on the communications side,” Lakey said. “And, we learned a lot about what works and what does not.” Lakey said that UNK’s plan already outlines alert notification procedures, including an electronic calling tree (part of the Buffalo County Emergency Management Agency), voice mail, campus e-mail announcements and messaging via campus cable TV.

He explained that other methods of blanket alert communication are being explored, including an on-campus public address system, a notification program that operates through a fire alarm system, message boards and texting. Also, UNK is likely to become part of a NU system-wide software program via the Internet that facilitates instant and live internal communications among the four campuses. The campus is already part of the central administration satellite telephone system.

The EOT supports individualized emergency operation plans in each department across campus, too. The Building Emergency Evacuation Committee and the Training andEducation Committee are currently involved in building-by-building projects in which they are working with the supervisors of each building on safety promotions.

As most things go with learning and preparation, practice is key, and so, participation in drills is a vibrant part of the UNK EOT program. UNK is an active player in the annual TERREX drill conducted by the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).

“We’ve played out various crisis scenarios,” Lakey said. “One time the mock situation was Kingsley Dam breaking. Another involved some kind of tainted food incident, and another pretended we had a pandemic-type situation.” The EOT also conducts its own tabletop drills. One drill taught the team how to deal with a pseudo-fire in Bruner Hall. The team invited a representative from the Kearney Fire Department to join in on the drill as a professional emergency management consultant.

“The NU System and UNK have really been leaders in the state in the arena of crisis management and preparation,” Lakey said. “We meet monthly with our fellow EOTs from the other campuses.We have obtained some significant Homeland Security grants. And UNK is developing as a Central Nebraska site for resource emergency equipment.”

According to Lakey, UNK has garnered about $300,000 in crisis management grant funding. Some of this money has helped bring an electronic card entry system to some select doors across campus. Grant support is currently moving UNK toward some form of a crisis lock-down program. Additionally, UNK’s Instant Command Center—the area from which the EOT would work during a crisis—is equipped with laptops, a printer, two-way radios and generators, all funded by grants.

UNMC chose UNK, in cooperation with the Buffalo County EMA, as its Central Nebraska location to place equipment that could be used in an emergency situation. Equipment to detect radioactive contamination and identify unknown substances are examples of some of the emergency equipment that is available at UNK.

UNK partners with another state program—Two Rivers Health Agency—which is closely connected to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A recent success that has come from this partnership is the production of an educational video on avian flu.

Lakey encourages campus interaction with the EOT and its crisis management efforts. Emergency operations plans for the campus and departments are accessible on the UNK Web site. Later this month, Lakey is visiting the employees within the College of Natural and Social Sciences, by their invitation, to discuss emergency planning. Lakey says he, or another member from the EOT, would be very interested and happy to discuss crisis management issues with any group on campus. He plans to host some forums for the campus community, too, to share information on how to be an aware campus citizen, how to identify peculiar behavior and on preventative steps that can be implemented.

“Awareness, taken regularly, everyday, by faculty and staff, and by students, of any questionable behavior or activity, could be decisive in the prevention of a crisis,” he said. “Please report any potential threats—even those that seem minuscule or inconsequential—immediately, to UNK Public Safety. Your awareness, caution and care are very important in this process.”