Christine Riser, news director at WJHL-TV, describes a regional crisis communications system that is being opened up for use by higher education. The pager system allows higher education institutions and other participants the ability to instantly and simultaneously contact Northeast Tennessee broadcast media about emergency situations so that information can be communicated to the public. This communications system was previously only available to police, firefighters, and other emergency responders. Also part of the symposium were “round table” discussion groups on the issues of law enforcement/emergency response, communications, and counseling that gave participants an opportunity to ask questions and share with each other their institutional practices and procedures in emergency response.
Dr. Zdziarski also shared from his experience in working with student affairs at Texas A&M University in 1999 when a campus bonfire collapse occurred, causing 12 student fatalities and several student injuries. He emphasized that colleges need to think of crisis management as a process. While most institutions typically do well in responding to a crisis, more attention needs to be paid to planning and taking measures to prevent crisis situations, he said. Different levels of planning are needed to prepare for response to different type of problem events, whether they involve some environmental situation such as a hurricane or chemical spill, a situation involving a structure, or a human event, such as the shootings at Virginia Tech. More attention is also now being paid to the recovery of the campus from a crisis and addressing the long-term needs of students, faculty, and staff.
Dr. Eugene Zdziarski, dean of students at the University of Florida, shares his expertise in campus crisis response with participants in the regional Critical Response Symposium on Tuesday. Tusculum hosted and facilitated the symposium to allow regional colleges to learn more about planning for crisis situations and share with one another their best practices and procedures for responding to campus crisis situations. Sixty-nine people participated in the symposium, including 49 registered guests from 18 colleges and universities and 11 from emergency and law enforcement agencies and community organizations. Three non-registered participants also took part. Colleges included several from the Northeast Tennessee/Southwest Virginia region as well as from other areas in Tennessee as far west as Jackson.