Originally, I was going to write a piece on intellectual property in my university but during a chat over coffee with my good friend Dennis Rice I have something else one my mind.
With the tragic events that have unfolded this week at Virginia Tech a lot of schools will be looking at their emergency readiness policies and communication methods. This unfortunate event has thrust to the forefront the security of our educational environments. Which, in our conversation, focused on how exactly would our institution inform us â€“ sitting in the University Center cafeteria at the time â€“ of a similar event transpiring somewhere else on this campus? The answer, surprisingly, would be the same way Virginia Tech informed its members. An email to all students, staff, and faculty would likely be sent. In addition, local media would be notified. But that does not help Dennis and myself sitting in the food court with no computer, no radio, and no TV nearby. It would not help a professor in the middle of a lecture and the class listening. There are so many gaping holes in this train of thought it is difficult to imagine schools not having a good look at their security procedures and policies for emergency response. Especially to something as terrifying as a rogue gunman wandering campus firing upon anything that moves.
The answer we came up with brings us back to the old days of elementary school and high school. A public announcement (PA) system! What could replace a simple system of speakers placed in each classroom connected to a central administration point? Well in an ideal technology enabled world there is the option of using a closed circuit television system with screens placed in every classroom, or at least every common area, displaying essential information. This is actually becoming common with local high schools. In the event of inclement weather, power failure, or emergency, a simple announcement would be given to the full campus including any necessary instructions. With a CCTV system, those announcements would be visually broadcast, and would avoid being unheard in noisy areas like the food court.
This of course is ideal since the cost for such an endeavor might not be justified by the reality of the environment although, it could be subsidized by advertising and used for general school information when not deployed in need to know situations. This is just one potential system, however I do feel that relaying on email as the central point of contact leaves to many openings for important information being left unseen. Especially given a worst case scenario.
On a related topic, I performed quite a lot of research on evacuation procedures for students with disabilities when I worked at MUN’s Blundon Centre. As of 2004, when I was last there, MUN did not have a policy for evacuating disabled students in an emergency.
It was fascinating to learn about policies that other Canadian universities had implemented and to consider the feasibility of adopting a similar plan at MUN.
It is amazing to realize that civilized society is not prepared for emergencies.