Volunteers Augment Security
EARLIER THIS YEAR, the director for the Center for the Study of the Civil War Era at Kennesaw State University (KSU), located 20 miles northwest of Atlanta near historic Kennesaw Mountain, had innocently arranged for the U.S. Army Ordnance Group from Ft. McPherson, Georgia, to come x-ray a few civil war cannonballs that had been donated to the university. The new director was concerned that the cannonballs, which were in a showcase in his office in the social sciences building, might still be live. What seemed like a routine examination to the director was viewed as a public-safety issue by the security department, which fortunately was alerted to the problem by one of the crisis coordinators assigned to the social sciences building.
Fulfilling a unique role, crisis coordinators are volunteers who work with security to provide help during an emergency until first responders arrive. They also provide help in nonemergency situations, such as during the cannonball examination, where safety is a concern.
The school’s crisis coordinator program was founded in 2007, following the high-profile shootings at Virginia Tech and several active tornado seasons. The strategic security and safety department, which works with, but is separate from, the campus police department, realized that the time between an emergency and the arrival of external first responders, such as medical personnel, was sometimes significant. It concluded that having personnel on site who could provide a calming presence to direct survivors and attend to the injured immediately could be worthwhile.
To launch the program, security put out a call for volunteers from among the more than 6,000 faculty and staff members. The goal was to have enough volunteers to assign a person to each of the 35 buildings on the university’s 384-acre campus. As it turned out, having enough volunteers was not a problem. As the program grew, more volunteers came forward. Security has now restricted the number of crisis coordinators to 165—the number of radios security has on hand. After being chosen, each coordinator undergoes a training program.
Training for the crisis coordinators is designed to encompass the many facets of crisis management, using an all-hazards approach to mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery. To complete the crisis coordinator certification program, applicants must go through four training modules, covering an overview of the crisis coordinator program, emergency operations, terrorism, and life safety.
Overview. This beginning session outlines why the program is necessary and discusses incidents from around the country, such as campus shootings, bombings, protests, and other accounts of disruption. The session stresses that campuses are considered soft targets because they foster an open environment with little or no restrictions to access. This module also addresses the risk assessment of the facility and the threats as they relate to an all hazards approach to crisis management.
The overview discusses the university’s layered communications approach to emergency alerts and notifications. Detailed descriptions are given of the many notification systems, including the e-mail emergency notification system, the text notification system, the siren and public announcement system, and the digital signage override system, which allows security to flash warning messages.
Trainees also learn about the university’s Redbook, which is a red binder that is placed in every building and is carried by the lead crisis coordinator during an emergency. The Redbook includes floor plans that identify the locations of all fire pull stations, fire extinguishers, storm shelters, and exit routes. The book lists all chemicals, both hazardous and not, for the fire department to review in a fire situation. This list lets the fire department know what firefighters will encounter when entering an area.
The Redbook also lists all the tenants in the building and their contact numbers—office numbers for academic buildings and student numbers for dorms. Although the use of land lines has decreased with the advent of wireless technology, the list is still critical. For example, when a bomb threat has been issued, the use of hand-held radios and cell phones is prohibited until the search is complete.
The final document in the Redbook is the emergency action plan for both the entire college and the individual buildings. This portion of the Redbook includes any special features of a specific building, such as a computer lab, or any after-hours operations.
Emergency operations. The training module on emergency operations is designed to give crisis coordinators a full understanding of their individual responsibilities in an evacuation or shelter-in-place situation. It includes instruction on how they will interface with the public-safety agencies such as police, fire, and emergency medical personnel.
Scenarios involving tornados, chemical releases, active shooters, and fires are all discussed and evaluated as to appropriate response. This module also addresses when and how to use the furnished handheld radios for response and communications during an incident.
For example, the radio system was critical in continuing communications throughout the facility’s buildings when the entire campus suffered a power outage. This was the only method available as all land lines were inoperable and all computer networks were down. Most people were satisfied to stay indoors and ride it out, but security realized that many of the buildings were not powered by a backup generator, meaning that the fire panels only had enough battery power for approximately 30 to 60 minutes. Because no notification would occur after that time if there were a fire, everyone had to be evacuated to buildings that did have backup power. Crisis coordinators used their radios to facilitate this effort.
As part of this training module, crisis coordinators learn to understand the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS), both implemented by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during an emergency.
To become a crisis coordinator, applicants must also complete four required NIMS courses—introduction to incident command system, single resources and initial action incidents, an introduction to NIMS, and an introduction to FEMA’s National Response Framework. These four courses, offered free from FEMA and the Emergency Management Institute, help the crisis coordinators understand the dynamics of any situation that would involve activation of the national ICS.
Terrorism awareness. The module on terrorism is designed to acquaint the crisis coordinators with recent terrorist threats. Trainees also discuss the historical perspective on the threats and explore how to prepare for and respond to such incidents. Terrorism and indications of planning by terrorist groups are discussed in detail, along with the modus operandi of those groups. A speaker from the FBI Counter Terrorism Squad or the Joint Terrorism Task Force also gives an update on the latest issues.
Life safety. Life-safety training includes hands-on sessions to teach CPR, first aid, and general safety issues as well as how to use automatic external defibrillator (AED) equipment and fire extinguishers. Since crisis coordinators are meant to supplement, not supplant, first responders, the emphasis is to get people out of harm’s way by evacuating them or leading them to shelter in place and to render immediate assistance in case of injury or illness.
The CPR unit includes in-house training through the American Heart Association’s train-the-trainer. KSU purchased enough mannequins, both adult and infant, to cover a course attendance of 14 people with two certified instructors. First aid, taught separately, rounds out this segment.
When the crisis coordinators program began, the university installed AED units in each building, making it easier to assist a heart attack victim within minutes. A formula was used to determine where an AED should be placed on each floor to allow someone to retrieve it and return to the victim in three minutes. After this formula was used to determine the number of units, 106 were initially purchased when the program began in 2007. AED units are now added when new buildings or additions are built.
This training session also includes classroom instruction and outside training on general safety requirements and on putting out a small fire using normal fire extinguishers. The local fire department works with the college’s environmental health and safety personnel to administer this part of the training.
Crisis coordinators are issued a distinctive ID badge, which also serves as an access control card. This allows the crisis coordinator entry back into the facility if there is a major incident after hours. The coordinators are also given a “challenge coin,” a commemorative coin indicating that they have been certified in the KSU Crisis Coordinator Certification Program. This challenge coin serves as a symbol to others of the crisis coordinator’s achievement.
Civil War Lesson
The day when the Civil War returned to be reckoned with, one of the crisis coordinators from the social sciences building called security to let us know what was about to happen. I responded to the social sciences building, along with the public safety lieutenant from the campus police, to meet with the dean of students. We determined that the best option was to evacuate the building as quickly as possible.
We also decided not to pull the fire alarms to avoid causing panic and to allow the use of the elevators, which would have been inoperable if the fire alarms had been activated. Instead, we could deploy our crisis coordinators and use radio communication to facilitate the evacuation.
Because all crisis coordinators are trained in evacuations, there was no need for explanations. As soon as the order was given by the lead crisis coordinator for the social sciences building, the coordinators donned their orange vests and began using their whistles to alert all personnel. They entered every room to ensure that everyone had been evacuated. In the meantime, campus police had set up a 100-foot perimeter safe zone outside the building and designated assembly areas.
The evacuation proved a useful test of the program, and for the most part, it went smoothly. Crisis coordinators were able to evacuate more than 4,000 students, faculty, and staff members from a five story building in just under 12 minutes.
After the incident, a postmortem discussion was held to review lessons learned, which centered primarily on communication issues. Security personnel had spread the word about the incident via texts, cell phone calls, and e-mails, but rumors and false information still circulated. Students used Twitter and Facebook to speculate on events as they occurred. Some students were tweeting as they were being evacuated. Because security had only given the initial alert, the student tweets seemed the only source of updated information. In future, security will give periodic updates via the notification system, even in routine evacuations such as this one.
The three cannonballs were examined by the Army Ordnance Group and the Cobb County (Georgia) Bomb Disposal Squad, and as it turned out, this was no false alarm—two of the cannonballs were still live. Even though the experts noted that to cause damage, the cannonballs would have to be thrown with force or be engulfed by fire, the school felt it best to have them removed. The events of the day may have been disappointing to faculty, who lost two beloved artifacts, but they buoyed the confidence of campus security. The rapid and well-organized evacuation proved to be a successful test of the university’s crisis coordinator program.
Robert F. Lang, CPP, is assistant vice president for strategic security and safety and the chief security officer for Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia. He is a member of the ASIS International Educational Institutions Council.