Within the last 11 days there has been a bombing at the Boston Marathon, the related shooting at MIT, an explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas and bomb threats to schools and businesses across the Treasure Valley, including Boise State. In light of these recent events, it seems that emergency preparedness and safety are on a lot of minds.
For Emergency Management Planner Rob Littrell, safety and preparedness are always on his mind. Littrell is the head of the office of Emergency Management and Continuity Planning at Boise State, a relatively new office created in 2011.
“My job is to coordinate and refine emergency operations,” Littrell said. “I make sure that we provide a safe and secure campus for staff, faculty and students.”
Littrell works with departments across Boise State including Campus Security, Boise Police, Environmental Health and Safety, Facilities Operations and Maintenance, Risk Management, and Transportation and Parking. These groups work together to train staff and faculty, prepare for emergencies and work to prevent crises before they happen.
Emergency management is more than responding to an incident that has already occurred. According to Littrell, emergency management and continuity planning focuses on four areas: mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.
The first area, mitigation, relies on pre-emptive measures to avoid hazards and stop emergencies from occurring in the first place.
“Mitigation involves keeping the campus safe by preventing emergencies. We have had the Department of Homeland Security come to campus and perform vulnerability assessments,” Littrell said. “We have implemented between 80 and 85 percent of their suggestions to help make the school safer.”
Part of preventing emergencies on campus also involves helping those students, staff, and faculty members who may be having issues coping with stress or issues with mental health. The Campus Assessment, Resource, and Education (C.A.R.E) Team has been established as a resource for individuals to report their friends or colleagues that may be a threat to themselves or others.
“The goal is to be preventative rather than reactive,” Littrell said.
Littrell works with building coordinators, faculty members in charge of the safety and evacuation procedures for each building on campus, to ensure that each building and the people in it are prepared in the face of an emergency.
“There are over 200 buildings on campus. Each one has an emergency action plan,” Littrell said. “The building coordinators use the emergency action plan to train faculty and staff, and to protect individuals in the building.”
Mary Aagard, an assistant librarian and head of Access Services, serves as the building coordinator for the Albertson’s Library. The library has some of the highest traffic of any building on campus, with several hundred students in the building at any given moment.
“(As building coordinators,) we manage getting people out of the building if the fire alarm goes off or for any reason we feel the need to evacuate the building,” Aagard said. “All the staff members also have different roles they perform when they’re evacuating the building.”
Aagard and other building coordinators receive training from the office of Emergency Management. That training is then passed on to other staff and faculty within the building.
“We recently had active shooter training. For me and two other members that work as assistant building coordinators, it’s our responsibility to get that information to the rest of (the staff),” Aagard said. “Many of us are also trained on CPR, first aid and using the defibrillators.”
The new Micron Business and Economics Building (MBEB) is another facility that houses many students, staff and faculty. In order to ensure the safety of the approximately 600 students usually in the building, the university hired Gail Puccetti as building manager, facilities coordinator, and building coordinator.
In order to keep emergency operations running smoothly, Puccetti has created detailed charts outlining each staff and faculty member’s role during an emergency.
“Everybody has a walkie-talkie. Everybody has a vest so they can be easily recognizable. It’s very, very pointed exactly what they’re supposed to do, exactly where their station is, where they’re supposed to look, where they’re supposed to go after their job is done,” Puccetti said.
The MBEB was also built with safety in mind. Each stairwell is equipped with alarm boxes, fire doors and detailed evacuation instructions. The building’s outside doors have a lock-down feature that keeps threats out but maintains access for police and fire crews.
All the work done by the office of Emergency Management and building coordinators helps train and prepare them for those rare moments when real emergencies do occur. In these instances, timely warnings for students, staff and faculty are crucial.
The primary system used to disseminate emergency warnings is the BroncoAlert system. This system sends warning emails via BroncoMail accounts. For those students who opt-in a text message or phone call will come to their cell phone, giving them instant information and updates.
“As of Feb. 25 of this year, only 28 percent of students had opted in. This is the number one thing students should do in order to keep themselves safe during emergencies,” Littrell said.
The alerts will generally give information concerning what is happening, where the situation is taking place and what action to take in response to the threat. Once a threat is confirmed, the goal is to have the BroncoAlert sent out within five minutes.
These alerts will only be sent out when there is real danger for individuals on campus. Littrell admitted that he received some critical feedback from students upset that the university chose not to alert students or evacuate campus after the bomb threat last Friday.
“When the first threats were called in around the valley on Thursday, we started talking about what we would do if we received one,” Littrell said. “Friday morning we set up our Emergency Operations Center with Boise Police and Lieutenant Tony Plott. We were primed for (the bomb threat).”
After the call was received, the university consulted with law enforcement and determined that the threat was not credible. No evacuations took place and no immediate alert was sent out. Later that day, an email was sent to students to apprise them of what had occurred earlier in the day.
“There was never a real threat to campus,” Littrell said. “But there are enough people who listen to police scanners and watch the news, so we sent out the email because we wanted to let people know what had happened.”
If there was a major emergency requiring the entire campus to evacuate, all people would be directed to the nearby Julia Davis and Kathryn Albertson parks until the situation is under control.
Scenarios involving active shooters involve different protocol. According to Littrell, there are three courses of action to take during a shooting.
“If you are able to do so safely, you need to get out of the building you are in. If you can’t do that, you need to find a place to hide out,” Littrell said. “If you can’t do either of those, your last option is to take out the shooter. This should only be done if you have no other option.”
After an emergency takes place on campus, the priority of the university is to resume operation and restore normalcy.
“When you close down campus for a long time, you tend to lose students,” Littrell said. “We want to have classes back in session as soon as possible.”
Each new scenario brings the opportunity for growth and improvement of university emergency planning. Littrell has created a list of nine goals he has for improving safety and preparedness at the university. Building coordinators are also always looking for ways to improve their emergency action plans.
“There’s always room for improvement because things are always changing. That is something that’s great about Boise State is they’re always offering new classes and workshops,” MBEB coordinator Puccetti said. “Things are always evolving and we may need to change a few things.”