The Last Word
Written by: Daniel Guariglia, Director of Facility Services

The Last Word

Natural disasters, acts of violence, fires and other emergencies affecting college campuses have raised questions about the safety of our students. At Niagara University, we have been proactive in preparing for emergency situations. In 1999, a cross section of administrators, management and staff developed an initial Emergency Response Plan with goals of reducing risk, providing timely and effective response, minimizing property damage and maintaining business continuity. Over the years, Niagara has made a significant investment to secure the resources necessary to help implement this plan. The plan, which is reviewed at least annually, is a living document that has been updated and enhanced many times to keep it current and accurate. With assistance from the New York State Office of Emergency Management, Department of Homeland Security and FEMA guidance, our latest revision in June 2011 has made our plan National Incident Management System (NIMS) compliant. This will allow the university, first responders, and local and state agencies to speak and work under the same guidance during an emergency.

Three separate committees have oversight of the university’s Emergency Response Plan. The Crisis Policy Team is responsible for and has the authority to establish new policy, amend existing emergency plan procedures, and approve budget requests for the relevant material and fiscal resources required to effectively mitigate the emergency while maintaining NIMS compliancy.

The Committee on Crisis Management is charged with maintaining the readiness of the institution during emergencies, assure crises management activities are NIMS compliant, and provide consultation to ensure all divisions and functional units have prepared plans that are functional and effective. This committee meets at least annually and/or upon request of the CRT to review the overall Emergency Response Plan, individual plan annexes, and to evaluate training and emergency notification procedures.

The Crisis Response Team is the “boots on the ground staff,” responsible for managing the university’s response to an incident. Comprising seven director-level members selected on the basis of their role in the day-to-day operation of the university and how that knowledge, responsibility and experience could be a benefit in an emergency, the CRT determines and implements all appropriate measures to respond to emergencies or disasters.

The CRT members — Niagara’s executive vice president and the directors of facility services, campus safety, contract services & risk management, information technology, recreation & intramural sports, student health services, and residence life — have received extensive training in a variety of areas. All have completed the appropriate level of NIMS training in accordance with their assigned role, and each has participated in at least one tabletop exercise and one functional exercise. Most of this training was conducted by the New York State Emergency Management Office, the Niagara Falls Fire Department, the American Red Cross, and the Department of Homeland Security, and consisted of lectures, exercises, drills and hands-on learning. Because training is a continuous process, several sessions are scheduled for 2012, including a functional exercise in the fall. In addition, several CRT members have also received training by the American Red Cross in shelter operations, search and rescue, and firstaid, and most are members of the Citizen Emergency Response Team (CERT) and have received additional training through Niagara University’s Border Community SERVICE (Special Emergency Response Volunteer Initiative for Community Empowerment).

In compliance with our Emergency Response Plan,a number of initiatives have been implemented on campus. For example, an Emergency Preparedness Reference Guide, which features a flip chart detailing how to respond to various incidents, was developed and placed in all classrooms on campus. It can also be downloaded from our website. Two locations have been identified as possible shelters on campus and provisions for food, communication, first aid, and security have been addressed. The university’s current supplies consist of cots, pillows, blankets, personal products, attire, basic food and water to shelter 425 people.

Recognizing that a particular incident could outpace our resources, we have a mutual aid understanding with Canisius College to share physical resources, including manpower. In the event that an incident affects both Niagara and Canisius, we have a memorandum of understanding with DePaul University to host each other’s websites and technology needs.

We have also implemented a mass notification network to provide information in the event of a campus emergency. This information will be delivered via the NU web page, our on-campus email and voicemail systems, automated text and cell phone messaging, campus-wide digital signage, and the intrusive mass notification loudspeaker system, which consists of speakers that can be heard outdoors from any area of the campus and is used to alert those in transit on campus or those using the ground and/or fields.

Some of the most recent improvements to our Emergency Response Plan are the result of funding from a Department of Education Emergency Management for Higher Education grant. The $394,000 award also enabled us to install additional video cameras to monitor campus entrances; purchase an Automated Record Management System for Campus Safety, which includes computers in all patrol cars to access the system; and create a digital layout of campus that will provide valuable information for first responders.

Dealing with emergencies is an ongoing, complex undertaking. Through implementation of risk reduction measures and comprehensive training, coupled with the availability of provisions for both short and long-term recovery assistance, Niagara University is well-prepared to save lives and minimize property damage.