Evaluating safety

By Colleen J. Miller

Managing Editor

    Oakland University Police Department closed the second floor of Hannah Hall Friday morning to conduct a simulated response to having an active shooter on campus.

    Officers responded to a planned phone call into the police dispatch reporting “shots fired” and were in the building within minutes, suited up and armed.

    Dozens of student volunteers participated in the exercise. According to Police Chief Sam Lucido, one group was in a classroom that followed proper lock down procedure while another group of students was in a classroom that did not, “designed to be mass chaos.”

    “When we looked at the difference between what happened in the locked down classroom and the unlocked classroom, [there were] huge different approaches to the police department and police officers,” Captain Mark Gordon said. “Please know your lock down policies, be familiar with them, be ready to implement them at any time. It’s huge in assuring the safety of the students.”

    Two other groups of students were staged to run through the halls as officers moved through the building looking for the “shooter.” The entire exercise, from the initial call to “shooter down,” was over in less than a half hour.

    The exercise was part of a series of initiatives to make OU safer and more prepared for any kind of emergency, which are being funded by nearly a half a million dollars in federal grant money. OU is the only Michigan school to receive money from the grant, Emergency Management for Higher Education, and has until February 2010 to spend the entire $423,900. Other similar exercises have been done successfully in empty buildings at night, but this was the first one to be done during the day with occupants.

    Captain Gordon was the coordinator of Friday’s exercise, which tested five objectives for emergency response: police response, dispatch response, university lock down policy for academics, the emergency notification system (including the text message alerts) and notification to the Crisis Management Team.

    “We had certain goals for each one and I think we met them,” Gordon said.

    But the official results won’t be in for a couple of weeks. Associate professor of political science, Pat Piskulich, is evaluating the exercise to fulfill requirements of the grant.

    “Every time you get money from the government you have to verify what you learned and whether the money was spent appropriately and all that kind of thing,” Piskulich said. “We had a bunch of checklists, we were observing behavior, we were trying to figure out whether the department achieved the objectives it set out for itself.”

    As part of the evaluation, OU Student Congress legislator Craig Brown sat in with the dispatch during the exercise. Brown is a graduate student getting a masters in public administration, law enforcement leadership and ethics.

    “The biggest problem that I saw in the dispatch center was the radio system,” he said. “From what I saw, the dispatch center had a hard time communicating with the patrol cars. And I think a lot of the problem is, from talking to the officers is that when the portable radios get inside the buildings because of the metal roofs and stuff like that it breaks the signal up.”

    “I rated them on the call time, the dispatch, the amount of time it took them to contact the officer in charge… sending out the emergency signal …”

    Some things can be checked off the list without evaluation, like the purchase and placement of 19 AED defibrillators near people on campus that are certified and trained to use them. Also, 100 members of the OU community have been trained and certified in CPR.

     The success of the above objectives depends on communication. According to Gordon, OUPD is in the process of implementing an 800-megahertz radio system in which they will be able to use to communicate with other agencies in Oakland County.

    “One of the major problems of the first responders [to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11] was that they couldn’t talk to each other,” said Lucido. “This type of system is designed to help eliminate that.”

    “So we switch over to a certain channel we can talk to local fire, EMS, other police departments and so forth.”

    And the last piece of the grant is this Crisis Volunteer Corp, which came together after the Virginia Tech shootings. Nancy Schmitz, assistant vice president of student affairs, is the coordinator of the 53 “in-house personnel who would be helpful to students in or after an emergency dealing with the emotional impact of the crisis,” as described in a 2007 e-mail that started the program.

    Some of the grant money is going toward professional development seminars and training to prepare the volunteers for any given emergency or situation.

    “We’re looking at any kind of emergency,” Schmitz said. “With the exception of something like [this exercise], it’s really hard to train volunteers for emergency that doesn’t get defined. So what we do is professional development at least two times a year. It brings the group together, let’s them know who the other members of the team are and we have looked at different kind of emergencies.”

    According to Lucido, all of these efforts are expected to come together next April when OUPD will be conducting a “large full-scale functional emergency exercise.”

“It will involve many members of the community in addition to the police department and the surrounding local first responder community.”

    To learn more about emergency preparedness at OU, including an online presentation, visit www.oakland.edu/ready.