Va.Tech attack ripples across UNL
BY TROY FEDDERSON, UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
In the hours after the April 16 Virginia Tech shootings, members of the UNL Police Department pulled together. Gathering in a UNLPD conference room, campus law enforcement personnel dissected the attacks, compared early details against UNL response plans and filled walls of dry eraser boards with notes and potential procedure changes.
"Our emergency response plans did not come alive because of the incident at Virginia Tech," said Fred Gardy, assistant police chief at UNL. "Our plans were already in place. However, good emergency management plans must evolve and be flexible. You need to use lessons learned in any incident.
"We do not Monday quarterback. We take an event like Virginia Tech, look at it and learn from it so we are better prepared to respond here at UNL."
Four days after the April 16 review, UNL emergency response plans were put into play. A bomb threat was called into Othmer Hall at 12:05 p.m. Campus police responded, evacuating Othmer Hall, Walter Scott Engineering Center and Nebraska Hall, and cordoning off the area to pedestrians and traffic. While the buildings were being searched, two campus-wide e-mails alerting faculty, staff and students to the threat were issued. University Communications helped Lincoln-area media outlets pass on the details to viewers, listeners and Web surfers. And, by a 3 p.m. press conference, the buildings were cleared and open for regular campus use.
"When an incident happens, we don't want people thinking about how they should respond," Gardy said. "We want them to know how they should respond before something happens."
While administrators gather experience through two or three tabletop exercises each year (the last two involved a tornado strike on campus and a hazardous material spill during a Husker football game), Gardy said faculty, staff and students should familiarize themselves with campus response criteria.
One of the best sources of information is a Web site recently developed to provide resources, tips and ideas on how to prepare and react to various emergency events. Common scenarios such as tornadoes, severe winter weather, fires, and chemical-release events, as well as personal safety threats, are addressed. Guidance is given on how to plan for such emergency events and what to do if they occur.
The information can be accessed online at http://emergency.unl.edu
UNLPD is also encouraging departments and individuals to develop emergency response plans.
Gardy said departments have the option of consulting with UNLPD on the formation of a plan. Individuals should review the information posted online, and create a plan of their own. An important element of an individual response would be to establish a way to contact family members, including identifying a meeting place in case communications are down.
"Don't isolate your plan and concentrate this one unfortunate incident at Virginia Tech," Gardy said. "Review the links online. Take an all-hazards approach to emergency management."
Faculty, staff and students can also help with emergency response by reporting what they see on campus.
"We would never ask you to jeopardize your life," Gardy cautioned. "But, if you see something, contact us immediately. Assess us of the damage; tell us what you see. Be as descriptive as possible and don't hang up.
"At that point, you are the eyes and ears of the police department."
On the flip side, don't call emergency numbers or the university switchboard to find out what is happening on campus.
"Don't ever call for information in the middle of an event," Gardy said. "Get your information from automated services, such as the UNL Web site. Turn on a radio or television. Use the technology available to you and let our human assets work the incident."
The university has a number of communication avenues in place. They include campuswide e-mails; campuswide voice mail; the UNL Today Web page (www.unl.edu
); and local media (including the campus radio station 90.3 KRNU).
University Communications and UNLPD are also developing "UNL Alert," a computer application that will alert individuals to campus emergencies (see story on Page 1). Also, the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska have started to discuss the creation of a text messaging system to pass along information.
"There will certainly be people not contacted for any number of reasons," Gardy said. "But, we try to use as many forms of communication as possible to get the message out.
"We're always willing to add something new because, in the end, it's going to be a small investment that will save lives."
While UNLPD can increase campus safety through patrols and respond to incidents, the success of UNL emergency response planning hinges on faculty, staff and students getting involved.
"The UNL Police Department plays a role in safety on campus, but we are only a part of a larger team," Gardy said. "Every faculty member, staff employee and student is a part of that team. It has to be a collaborative effort for it to work."