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Friday, May 6, 2016

Schools prepared if tragedy happens

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Compared to the peaceful scenery of the Arkansas State University campus in Mountain Home, University of Central Arkansas in Conway was a nightmare at the time of the shootings Oct. 26. Many colleges and universities have made emergency plans in case something similar happens to them. Photo by Emily McIntosh
Emily McIntosh

Staff Writer

The sound of tornado sirens going off or the firing of gun shots on the sidewalk of a school campus as students are going to their classes is something no one wants to hear. Unfortunately, this does happen, as the University of Central Arkansas in Conway has learned twice this year. The same goes for the tragedy at Virginia Tech and some schools in Louisiana that were closed down by Hurricane Katrina.

In the wake of last year's deadly attacks on Virginia Tech, schools have enacted emergency plans in case something similar happens to them. Both Ozarka College in Melbourne and Arkansas State University in Mountain Home have plans in case any type of emergency situation arises on campus.

"Since the Virginia Tech shootings, Ozarka College has devoted a lot of time and energy to developing a comprehensive crisis preparedness plan," Tina Wheelis, vice president of finance at Ozarka College said. "The administration has attended several workshops related to disaster planning and participated in various activities to promote planning and critical thinking during emergency situations. The Administrative Council and the Campus Safety Committee have developed a Crisis Manual that identifies numerous emergency situations and detailed action plans to be followed in the event that a crisis develops on campus. Currently, the College is focusing on educating the faculty and staff about the policies and procedures identified in the Crisis Manual and developing and implementing mass communication systems that will notify students and staff of emergency situations."

The Crisis Manual was developed in 2008 and given to each full-time and part-time employee.

Wheelis said the college is currently using the phone system, which can act as an intercom. The school also has the ability to send out mass e-mails to faculty, staff and students. The college is in the process of working on software that will be able to send out mass text messages. Wheelis said the school plans to have the system available in the spring semester. This mass text messaging system is similar to what UCA used in the Oct. 26 shooting, which killed two students and injured another individual.

In case of a natural disaster, Ozarka has set up safety locations. "The Campus Safety Committee is in the process of designing new emergency exit routes that will be located in various locations throughout each building. Safe rooms will be identified and marked on each (campus map). In addition, action plans and detailed instructions pertaining to tornadoes and other natural disasters are included in the Campus Crisis Manual," Wheelis said.

ASU-Mountain Home's plan is a bit different. Their Emergency Procedures Quick Reference Guide lists important contact numbers for specific emergencies. The guide also tells faculty and staff what to do in case of a bomb threat, intruder or hostage situation, weapons situation, violent criminal situation, natural disasters and other types of emergencies.

"(We) didn't feel like text messaging was appropriate at a community college," Lyndle E. McCurley, vice chancellor for administrative affairs said. "Those who are not on campus at the time they get the message might be curious and come on campus anyway."

McCurley said faculty have the ability to lock their classroom doors from the inside after they requested it for safety purposes. McCurley, however, had doubts as to whether locks would work to keep intruders at bay. "If they really want to get in, they'll find a way," McCurley said.

He said the college now has a speaker system in place that can be heard from the parking lots in case of an emergency. "The speaker system is just used in emergency situations," McCurley said.

Though most schools top priority is the safety of their students, it is difficult for any school to prepare for a violent situation. "I don't know how you'd prepare for a shooting, and I don't think anyone else does either," McCurley said.

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