Two days ago, a bomb threat forced the campus of Louisiana State University (better known as LSU) to undergo a mass evacuation. History tells us that when a crisis strikes a major university—whether it be a bomb threat or the child molestation scandal that recently rocked Penn State University—it never strikes that university alone. There is always a ripple effect; a wave of paranoia that permeates campuses all across the country. Questions pour in from all corners: could something similar happen here? Could something worse? Simply put, are we safe?
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The Auburn Department of Public Safety and Security is an agency of trained, determined individuals tasked with easing those concerns. It serves as the primary emergency operation center for Auburn University and a backup emergency operation center for Lee County.
The agency utilize a range of tools—facilities, athletics, business—to prepare the university for any and all imaginable safety issues. They also rely on heavy coordination efforts, bringing people together to generate ideas, practices and concepts for ensuring success. In other words, if it’s related to the safety of Auburn University and neighboring communities, they are involved.
“We prepare the campus for an all-hazards approach, whether it's natural hazards, man-made hazards, things such as bomb threats, or it could be a suspicious package—we prepare the campus better to respond to those kind of things,” says Chance Corbett, Associate Director of Emergency Management.
Because Auburn is a fairly safe campus, weather reigns as the primary area of concern. The agency uses real-time radar to monitor football games, lightening strikes and weather developments that threaten the university or areas around the university where students are located.
The agency also practices table top exercises. Here, various department members are presented with a crisis scenario. An ongoing conversation ensues as these members wrestle with questions of what should be done, what others do better and how the team can work cooperatively in their response effort. This exercise then graduates to a full-scale simulation where paid people act as patients or active shooters. The response plan—which includes police officers, firefighters and other department representatives—is then put into practice and key decisions are made (ex: do we close the campus?)
The agency also trains campus employees for minor emergencies such as putting out small fires, first-aid and how to summons the police. These trained employees are identifiable by their hard hats and vests that read CERT (Community Emergency Response Team). “If you see those people walking through the building during an emergency, you know they've had some training to help you get out of the building,” says Corbett.
In a sense, the agency serves as Auburn University’s unseen hand. Despite the great lengths undertaken to protect students, less than 100 of those students even know it exists. According to Corbett, however, this is a good thing. “If we're not using it, that means we don't have an emergency going on.”
But if they are using it, one glance at the dedication exhibited by members of this agency ensures you they’re using it well.