Outdated Emergency Operations Plan turned into “living document”
Last issue, The Pacific Index spoke with LCC’s Molly Newhard, Editor-In-Chief of The Torch newspaper, about the recent lockdown following reports of an armed individual on campus at LCC (and Pacific’s Eugene campus). Along with another lockdown at Pacific’s Hillsboro campus in the same week, The Index considered how these events reflect on the pending legal challenges to Oregon’s Measure 114 gun control law. With or without gun control legislation, though, universities and their students must be as prepared as possible for a huge range of emergency situations, and “preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation” is the mission of Pacific University’s new Business Continuity and Emergency Management office.
This week, The Index spoke with Campus Public Safety (CPS) Manager Jerry Rice and Director of Business Continuity and Emergency Management (BCEM) Amy Rasmussen, who is currently redrafting Pacific’s Emergency Operations Plan. This will be Rasmussen’s second redraft of the document since being hired by Pacific to launch the new BCEM office “literally four or five days before COVID started,” Rasmussen said.
That first redraft was a much-needed overhaul of a plan that was 8–10 years old. Rasmussen brought the Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) up to federal and state standards for higher education institutions. She explained that the plan won’t sit that long again: “I always say it’s reviewed annually and rewritten every five years, but every time there’s a training or a drill, or we do an after-action, it could modify or change anything in that plan. So it’s a living document.” Rasmussen has just finished the latest update to the EOP and is currently working on the Annexes, which are accompanying documents that detail the specifics for each potential hazard.
According to Rasmussen, an “all hazards approach” is the guiding principle of the plan. “For me, the root of everything has its starts with personal preparedness, whether it’s walking to your car alone at night or an active threat situation, it’s what do I have the capacity to handle? What are my personal resources? What is my training, my knowledge?” she explained.
Rasmussen and Rice said that they are building a new strategy for drills that would simultaneously increase the preparedness of students and staff while decreasing the impact of drills on daily operations. “A drill is a little bit trickier with a campus like this that has a lot of sprawl, so we are looking at a way we can roll out a drill that is a little easier on schedules, disruptions of classes, personnel capacity, the ability for everybody to participate.” After every drill, they survey facilitators and participants to further improve the protocols.
After a real emergency, CPS and BCEM are more sensitive to trauma: “The active threat, armed individual-type surveys are a little bit different. We don’t send those out to everyone affected because they’ve already been affected by an event.” After the LCC lockdown, Rasmussen said, “We started a pop-up Emergency Operation Center, we gathered people in the room, we had the President’s council members and deans on Zoom.” After making sure students were accounted for, making sure students could talk with staff was part of what Rasmussen calls the Recovery phase.
The other area they are working the most on is communication. The Boxer Alerts system is critical to CPS’s ability to communicate with staff and students during an emergency, so Rasmussen and Rice have worked to ensure that people are signed up and stay signed up. They also extended Boxer Alerts to contractors such as Bon Appétit and Virginia Garcia.
Another example of changing communication priorities is phones on campus. “[President Coyle and I] get a lot of questions during the night walks about campus safety at night and the blue phones.” Rasmussen and President Coyle believe that having a cell phone on hand is much more effective than the emergency blue phones. They are working to roll out the Omni Alert app which is part of the Boxer Alerts system. Holding up her smartphone, Rasmussen said, “I don’t want you to go find a blue phone and then be stationary trying to talk to somebody. I want you on this.”
CPS Manager Jerry Rice also emphasized the importance of personal preparedness and vigilance. “I’m currently counting [CPS] at 13 people. It doesn’t matter if I’m at 13 or 35 or 85 people. I’m still not going to have enough people to be covering everything at the same time,” he said. “At the end of the day, there’s more of you than there’ll ever be of us… It literally takes the community to keep the community safe.”
That said, Rice also reported, “I’ve received more support within the last five years than I’ve ever received. I think Pacific tries to do the best it can and tries to relay the resources as equitably as possible. Is it on a timetable I would like? Of course not—I want everything yesterday.”
One of the areas that Rice wishes he had more resources is for making all of the buildings on campus key-card access. Currently, three academic buildings don’t have key-card access. Rice said they recently changed to a new access system because the price of the previous system had risen 500 percent since 2012. Even on the new system with fewer fees, retrofitting for key-card access costs $4,000–$8,000 per door depending on the building type and age.
It’s not as simple as locking every building, though. Rice explained. “For public spaces, particularly Marsh, the library, the UC—you do have to manage that public access. The library, for example, has Federal Reserves, so we have to allow the public access to those Federal Reserves.” He continued, “But the ideal would be that any door that is open is on the key-card access system, so that if we do need to go in some sort of lockdown, we can get that done and know every building is secure.” For example, Rice said that for buildings like the UC with banks of eight doors, Willamette University has gone to a system of keeping all doors locked except for one or two that have key-card access.
Rice and Rasmussen aren’t just making this up as they go along; there are several organizations that connect emergency planners of regional and international universities. “They have symposiums, we trade documents, we have a document repository. We all share plans—there’s no point in recreating the wheel because we’re all working off of standards and best practices,” Rasmussen said. They trade more than ideas, too. “We also have a mutual aid agreement that would allow us to contact other universities and request assistance… We can ask additional facilitators to come, or evaluators to come if we’re having a huge event and Campus Public Safety is having staffing issues due to illness. We saw that a lot with COVID.”
Besides drafting plans, Rasmussen spends a lot of time meeting with administrators and running training workshops for them and other personnel such as RAs. Despite running the office with just a few work-study employees, Rasmussen said that she attends student groups and organizations and is even available to have one-on-one chats with students who reach out to her directly.
Campus Public Safety: email@example.com, Jerry Rice: firstname.lastname@example.org, Amy Rasmussen: email@example.com — Lane Johnson