Call Me Doctor Doom

Campuses must take another look at how they would respond to worst-case scenarios.

I’m not one to worry needlessly about negative things that most likely won’t happen to me on a personal level.  As an individual, this is probably a pretty healthy outlook to have on life. But when it comes to campus public safety, security, emergency preparedness and risk management, not planning for really, really bad situations that rarely occur could someday come back to haunt you. Case in point: the nuclear disaster that is currently unfolding in Japan.

As this crisis deepens, the media has been running articles claiming that before the disaster, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) and the Japanese government downplayed the dangers of a tsunami and ignored warnings by their own engineers and a 2007 study. To make matters worse, since March 11 when the earthquake and tsunami triggered the radiological catastrophe, Tepco representatives and government authorities have been slow to address the risks of radiation exposure.

So what does all of this have to do with your hospital, school or university? Believe it or not, quite a bit.

Imagine a worst-case scenario happening on or near your campus. Then imagine your institution had been warned about it, but your administrators chose not to heed that warning.  Obviously, your campus would most likely do a less-than-stellar job responding to the disaster. Beyond that, the press, government, parents, faculty, staff, students, patients, prospective students and patients, and the general public would have a field day criticizing your every action and inaction… and rightly so.

And after the catastrophe, let’s say you add insult to injury by not having a proper emergency communications plan. The result: your institution either doesn’t provide the media and the public with enough information, or it provides inaccurate or conflicting information, or, heaven forbid, it provides misinformation. Again, your institution would be slammed… and rightly so.

Heck, even with tragedies that no one anticipates, your institution could be raked over the coals. As unfair as this seems, it happens. The prime example here is Virginia Tech, which was just hit with the Department of Education’s maximum fine for the school’s handling of the 2007 mass shooting. Let’s also not forget the lawsuits that are pending and the other claims that have been settled.  Oh, and did I forget to mention the public relations nightmare and its intangible costs to the school’s reputation? Imagine how much worse the aftermath would have been  if the tragedy had been forseeable or if the many things Virginia Tech did correctly had been bungled.

Let’s face it, if your campus faces a worst case scenario that is foreseeable—be it an earthquake, mass shooting, chemical release or something else—your institution will inevitably be in a world of hurt no matter how much you prepare. That said, you can do yourself and your institution a big favor by doing the best you can to realistically address the risks beforehand and having good emergency preparedness and crisis communications plans.

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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