ALEXANDER CITY Ala.— Police, students and school officials recently confronted a scenario involving a despondent Alabama college student who suddenly sets off an explosion and sprays a campus with bullets.
It was a fictional case but it helped underscore some real questions: How will police respond? Who will take command at the scene? What is the 911 dispatch center’s plan to deal with the barrage of calls? Who’s dealing with the media? How many officers are needed to secure the campus? Can the hospital deal with the number of injured?
“When something like that happens, you don’t want that to be the first time you’re asking ‘What about this?’ and ‘What about that?'” Alexander City police Lt. Randy Walters said. “It helps everybody in general understand what needs to be done.”
The Alabama Community College System held the Introduction to Vulnerability exercise last Wednesday to identify and plug holes in disaster plans for the schools and their communities. The longtime goal tragically was made timely after last month’s deadly shooting at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Representatives from all but two of the system’s 29 schools and programs attended the session, which included a frank discussion about making disaster planning a priority at the college serving about 125,000 students.
In Alexander City, the police emergency plan calls for phoning Central Alabama Community College’s security post. But what happens if the security officers are all responding to the emergency and the phone goes unanswered? A solution emerged during the session: Give the college one of the police department’s radios so they can communicate from any part of the campus.
Brett Pritchard, director of public and high school relations for CACC, said the exercise showed the school needs to establish point people for each building and use its Web site to send out updates during a disaster.
“We have plans and a backup, but now we need a backup to the backup plan,” he said.
Walter Williams Jr., chief of police at Lawson State Community College, said the central issue is getting the administration “to buy into it realistically and practice it.” He said administrators have not given priority to implementing and practicing plans laid out on paper.
“We’ve got a great plan because it’s continuing to be upgraded through (training) like this … but it does not get practiced,” said Williams. His remarks were met with applause and nods of confirmation from others around the room.
“We have a fine looking book and we change the cover every few years,” said Calhoun Community College athletic director Nancy Keenum. “However, my guess would be 80 percent of our full-time employees do not know what’s inside our book.”
Vice Chancellor for Operations and Planning Don Edwards said implementation will be discussed at the next monthly meeting of college presidents.
“Does everybody have a plan that I’d like to see? Of course not but we’re much farther along than we were at this time last year. People are getting the message and we’re going to keep working on it,” Edwards said.
The training was offered in partnership with the state and federal emergency management agencies and Louisiana-based safety consulting firm IEM. Central Alabama Community College hosted the session at its Alexander City campus.