Case Study: Radford University Overcomes Emergency Management Hurdles

Officials at Radford University in Virginia have collaborated with other campuses and first responders, as well as city, county and state government officials to overcome its emergency preparedness obstacles.

An unintentional internal gap may also exist between the administration, faculty, students, and the emergency management and operational departments of the academic institution. Each component, with its unique experience and expertise but operating independently, could unintentionally create a divide that is only highlighted during a large scale emergency.

Due to the increasing number of emergencies on college campuses in recent years, most institutions have had to re-examine and implement new or revised emergency preparedness policies and procedures so they can respond. Although RU does not claim “expert status” regarding emergency management, the university is keeping current with research and best practices in this area. Two themes have been identified from research and have served as critical reference points:

Theme 1: No Single Model Works for Every Campus or Every Incident. There is no common template that is applicable to all campus emergencies. Additionally, if there were such a template, it could not be applied to all educational institutions. Each campus, with its own operational environment, is unique and is one facet of the surrounding community.

Additionally, educational institutions are more likely to prioritize a plan or response based on their location, history and relevant research. Tulane University and the University of Florida may place greater emphasis on hurricane and weather related scenarios. California institutions may place higher priority on the possibility of an earthquake. Institutions such as Georgetown in Washington D.C., or New York University may emphasize a homeland security planning model.

All institutions are trying to implement the all-hazard approach planning model but, as demonstrated at Columbine, Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, no institution could plan or foresee the scope and the tragedy that took place on those campuses. Additionally, the University of Georgia (UGA) preparedness Web site recently noted:

…while there have been only 12 major shooting events at American colleges (none at UGA) since 1966 (FBI, 2007), 11 major structure fires have occurred on the UGA campus since 1993, and the Athens community has been hit by tornadoes in 1973, 1985 and 2003 (UGA Risk Management Services, 2007). On the Athens campus, accidental gas leaks from construction projects or chemical spills are far more likely than any of the above scenarios.

Theme 2: Campus, City, County and State Responses Must Be Coordinated. Emergency preparation and response involves a coordinated effort by not only the campus community and first responders, but surrounding agencies and communities as well. The RU context provides an excellent example. Because of its geographical location, RU is potentially vulnerable to emergency situations resulting from industries and transportation lanes in the immediate vicinity to the campus:

  • The Radford Army Ammunition Plant (RFAAP) is located in the mountains of southwest Virginia in Pulaski and Montgomery counties. RFAAP’s Main Manufacturing Area is located approximately five miles northeast of the RU campus. RFAAP manufactures propellants. The plant has also produced TNT on an intermittent basis since 1968. This facility has been the site of several devastating explosions and has been identified as a potential target for terrorist activities


  • Interstate 81 is a major transportation corridor for trucks, which may carry hazardous materials and fuel


  • A large rail yard for the Norfolk Southern Railroad bisects the campus, thus placing persons on campus in close proximity to possible hazardous materials being shipped by rail

Given these exigencies and the regional nature of the vulnerabilities identified, RU recognized a critical need for leadership to develop within the New River Valley a community-based emergency management perspective. What was developed serves as a model for a fully integrated all hazards emergency management plan for higher education.

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