Tragedy on college campuses: What would UF do in a crisis?

By Sarah Stubbs

Co-editor

The University of Findlay has been increasingly aware of crisis management and preparation due to the number of campus shootings and violent acts that have occurred over the past decade.

According to Matthew Bruskotter, assistant dean for environmental safety, security and emergency management, UF has a detailed crisis response plan that is available on Oiler Nation under the Safety and Security webpage as well as a campus violence review committee that he chairs.

Since the crisis response plan has existed, it has not been enacted with the exception of a few weather induced instances.

“Since I’ve been at UF, there’s been nothing that has necessitated activating a large scale response. I’d say things like flooding and severe winter weather has caused inconveniences for us, but that just requires some coordination between some of the departments to manage those responses,” said Bruskotter.

Bruskotter is from Findlay, grew up in Findlay and graduated from UF. He says that he has known the University to be proactive in serious matters such as safety and security, and has no doubt that University leaders and employees are educated and aware of how to handle any emergency.

According to Bruskotter and Dave Emsweller, vice president of student affairs, emergency preparation starts with residence life.

“Normally what most universities do is train your staff to then provide directions to the residents or students. That’s normally how it happens. Campus security and resident assistants and directors receive the primary training. If there is an emergency, they’re considered one of the first responders,” said Emsweller.

Bruskotter is in charge of making sure residence life staff is educated and ready to go in any emergency situation.

“Every year before the academic year starts, I actually provide training to the residence life staff. I show them what our plan is, where they can access it on the internet and explain the procedures to them in detail,” said Bruskotter.

UF’s crisis response plan covers any type of crisis that could potentially occur: an active shooter, a bomb threat, tornado, fire, chemical release and more.

Resident assistants receive the basic training and resident directors receive detailed training.

“I spend about three or four hours with the resident directors specifically. We go into even more detail with that plan and I actually run them through a couple of table top scenarios where I will give them an emergency and they have to talk through the emergency about how they would respond, what their expectations would be, what they would be doing, and we can talk about how that works and what they may need to consider changing in how they would respond to certain things,” said Bruskotter.

Bruskotter says that the residence life staff is expected to share the information with their residents every year after training and that he is happy to conduct programs with students if he is ever asked to do so.

The Pulse asked what students who were to be in common areas on campus, like the AMU, for example, are supposed to do when there are no residence life staff to give instructions in the case of an emergency.

Bruskotter says that employees receive information on emergency response every year in one of the mandatory sessions faculty and staff have to attend at opening activities every year, but all responsibility for response is not shouldered on every staff member.

“There is a certain amount of responsibility that employees have for students that are in their classroom, for example. But if you are ever in a common area, it’s really important to be a part of the Oiler Alert system. Students are automatically opted in if they put a valid cell phone number in their emergency contact information,” said Bruskotter. “That is the primary method by which we are going to be communicated with students, faculty and staff during an emergency.”

Bruskotter and Emsweller said that in addition to the text message alerts, the blue light phones on campus are another key part of the communication process that the crisis management plan calls for.

“If something were to be taking place on campus, we would do the emergency notification messages as fast as we possibly could. We would use text messaging and we would also use our blue light phone system—which is a PA system that is very loud—to actually give instructions if something were to take place,” said Emsweller. “If something was happening in one part of campus, we could use the blue light phone to broadcast anywhere we wanted with instructions. Or we could isolate our broadcast to a specific area if we needed to. We also have a way to pop messages up to anyone who would be signed into the UF network.”

Bruskotter said that with the emergency notification system, it’s not just one statement. The University plans to continue to communicate with students, faculty and staff throughout and after any kind of emergency that would occur.

“We need to make sure that people are empowered to make good decisions about their own safety. We want them to make sure they know what we’re doing to try to take care of the problem,” said Bruskotter.

From a campus security standpoint, there isn’t much to contribute in the reaction of an emergency such as active shooter simply because the security guards are not all sworn police officers and do not carry weapons.

“The police department are the ones that would be doing all of the responding. Our dispatchers are trained to listen to background noise to hear anything out of the ordinary and we would try to find out as much information as we could so we can send out an emergency message, but we have to rely on the police department because they are the ones with guns,” said Ken Walerius, director of safety and security.

Steven Baum, assistant director of safety and security, added that both of them meet with the Findlay police captain two or three times a year.

“It’s helpful to know that you have law enforcement close and that they are supportive. We work closely with the Findlay police. They have extensive training on active shooter and they’ve done trainings on our campus actually. One year we had RAs and RDs involved in observing one of the training sessions so they could get a sense of what the police would do,” said Emsweller.

Baum also said that some universities don’t even have crisis management plans. He said that when he goes to conventions and receives training, a lot of the time other schools are asking how UF does it.

“We have tried to increase awareness. We are out there as much as we can, but the students and faculty are the ones that see these things. Usually these type of emergency situations that happen at college campuses happen from inside. If you see something, say something. If you see something odd and your gut tells you it isn’t right, say something,” said Baum.

Collectively, the leaders in crisis management at UF all agree that the awareness is high all the time, but emergencies aren’t something students think about frequently.

“For me, it’s sort of always top of conscience. I’m always thinking about things like that because you just need to be prepared. I don’t know if our students think about the possibility of these things happening or not. We have been fortunate because these instances haven’t happened here, but as we know, anything can happen anywhere and at any time,” said Emsweller.

According to Emsweller awareness of the possibility of an emergency is half of the battle. Observance is where proper crisis response starts.

“It’s not just about active shooter instances—that’s the one we talk about the most. There are lots of things that could happen. It’s about being observant as best as you possibly can,” said Emsweller. “What we need students to understand is that if you see something that seems odd. Please report it. If you get an odd vibe that something doesn’t seem right, it’s best to just call and tell someone and let them check it out.”

On the campus security side of things, Walerius and Baum said that student awareness is key.

“I think that our biggest challenge is student awareness. These things can happen and they do happen. Just because we are little Findlay doesn’t mean it can’t happen here,” said Baum.

However, Bruskotter is confident that the University is ready to react to any emergency that could happen.

“I think that the University, in its traditional ways of being proactive about this kind of stuff, is staying ahead of the curve,” said Bruskotter.

Talk to Sarah on Twitter at @sarahxstubbs 

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