After Va. Tech, 'U' keeps to disaster plans

Daily News Editor
Published April 30, 2007

Last fall, the University mobilized its staff to prepare for a massacre.

Researchers anticipated a situation where an influenza pandemic could wipe out up to 40 percent of the University's population. University staff members all over campus developed emergency plans to face the danger the bird flu virus could pose.

The virus never came, but in light of the recent shootings at Virginia Tech, University spokespeople said the planning was not vain.

"Many of our emergency response procedures have been reviewed and fine-tuned because of the possibility of a flu pandemic," said Linda Green, a director in the Division of Student Affairs.

Communications procedures outlined in emergency plans designed in response to the threat of pandemic flu would be relevant in a crisis like the one at Virginia Tech, said Diane Brown, a University facilities and operations spokeswoman.

Some of these procedures include broadcasting directions and information through TV, radio and loudspeakers atop police cars, as well as alerting students and staff through e-mails.

Brown said it is necessary to have several modes of alerting students, because one method might not be enough. An alert e-mail from the University takes five to seven hours to reach everyone in the system, she said.

To aid the speed of information, the University is encouraging students to register for the CodeRED telephone alert system - a free service available through the city of Ann Arbor that can notify 60,000 people of an emergency within an hour.

But for emergency plans to effectively protect and inform the University community, students must do their part and pay attention to the systems already in place, Brown said.

Students often ignore warning systems like e-mail alerts and fire alarms, and fail to update their contact information, Green said.

She said the University is working with the Michigan Student Assembly to establish an emergency education program this fall to "aggressively push this information in a way that (students) will pay attention to it."

While there are no immediate plans to invest in new emergency response mechanisms or increase the Department of Public Safety's staff as a response to Virginia Tech, Brown said that DPS is taking another look at emergency plans already in place.

Brown said campus police officers undergo special training to deal with an "active shooter" and that this training is refreshed regularly.

Another effort underway will revise the University's emergency procedures guide to include directions on what to do in an active shooter situation.

An additional emphasis will be put on emergency planning in DPS's message informing freshman students about crime prevention at orientation, Brown said.

But even with an emergency infrastructure in place, Brown said it's impossible to know when or if a crisis like the unprecedented massacre at Virginia Tech will occur and if the University will be prepared to handle it.

She said there isn't a surefire way to stop someone as "disturbed and determined" as the Virginia Tech shooter, but a thorough response plan could hinder his actions.