College Planning & Management

APR 2013

College Planning & Management is the information resource for professionals serving the college and university market. Covering facilities, security, technology and business.

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Safety & Security PROT EC T ING C AMPUS RESOURCES According to Plan Will staf actions match your expectations during a crisis? BY MICHAEL DOR N T HERE HAVE BEEN NUMEROUS instances in which campus organizations have conducted drills that have gone well, only to experience some form of serious plan failure when an actual crisis occurs. One common reason for serious and even catastrophic plan failure involves the decisions and communications made by the first staff member in the first critical seconds. Campus employees and students who may respond very well when someone is telling them what they should do often do not quickly implement lifesaving action steps and make prompt communications when faced with life-or-death decisions. Addressing these deadly gaps may be one of our best opportunities to reduce loss of human life in mass casualty incidents. Reviewing the Simulations This dynamic is common in many settings, including institutions of higher learning. In fact, since most institutions of higher learning do not conduct the 10 to 16 emergency drills each year that would be more typical for many K–12 schools and other types of organizations, it can be even more pronounced. A project by Safe Havens International to conduct one-on-one crisis simulation "stress-testing" with more than 2,000 simulations with test subjects in more than a dozen states has revealed a distinct pattern. These controlled and scored simulations, using a combination of scripted and video scenarios, have demonstrated that it is extremely common for the action steps selected by employees to differ widely from expected actions. In fact, most campus officials have been shocked to see how differently test participants have reacted in contrast to organizational expectations. For example, school employees who are shown a video depicting a student holding a gun to his head, threatening to shoot himself while standing in a group of students, have sometimes replied that they would "attack the gunman." In other instances, multiple employees have stated that they would attempt to engage and disarm an individual who is outside of their building brandishing a handgun but not firing it, even though the armed individual is sighted 75 yards away. In other simulations, campus employees have stated that they would evacuate students from a lockable classroom if they heard gunshots, even if they had no idea where the sound of the gunfire was coming from. Other typical 14 COLLEGE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT / APRIL 2013 reactions include not notifying anyone if they see a tornado rapidly approaching their building and not activating the fire alarm when posed with a scenario involving a fire. The most pronounced fail rates for the scenarios typically involve test subjects who have viewed videos that teach them to attack an active shooter as a last resort. Though the videos emphasize that this is a last resort effort, a number of test subjects either "lock up" and cannot quickly decide on a course of action because the scenarios do not involve an active shooter, or jump to an approach that is not appropriate for the situation at hand. Whether the situation involves weapons, fires, tornadoes, aggressive animals, intruders, or medical emergencies, there is often a significant disconnect between what campus leaders think line employees will do and what they really will do. Recognize the Delay This matches what we see in our forensic work. I have evaluated seven active shooter incidents at U.S. and Canadian schools, as well as many other types of more typical weapons assaults, tornado strikes, fi res, medical emergencies, and other critical incidents, and have seen very similar dynamics. Most commonly, there are significant delays in implementing life-saving protective actions such as lockdowns, room clear, and evacuations. For example, it is very common for staff members to forget to implement a lockdown for precious minutes after shots are fi red on campus. There are also often serious delays in making requests for public safety assistance. In one case I evaluated as an expert witness consultant, there was a delay of eight minutes for both of these critical actions after an administrator reached the side of a student who had been shot. The effects of life-or-death stress are well documented and are quite powerful. Fortunately, it is also well documented that people can be taught to make effective decisions and to communicate effectively in an emergency. Testing the ability of individual campus employees to make life-or-death decisions is an important fi rst step in identifying and addressing these types of deadly gaps. CPM Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at WWW.PLANNING 4EDUCATION.COM

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