In fall 2006, student enrollment at Kennesaw State University (KSU) broke 20,000 -double the student population in 1990.
But as enrollment crept up and more on-campus housing was added, the school's emergency plan remained untouched. Therefore, the original plan - based on an outdated culture and school structure - needed to work for twice the number of people.
But KSU, located about 25 miles outside Atlanta, is turning things around. In May 2007, the university hired Robert Lang, a former Georgia Tech homeland security director, to create an up-to-date emergency plan to protect students, faculty and staff.
"The events that day at Virginia Tech shocked all of us who learn, work, teach, live or are otherwise engaged on the campuses of colleges and universities in this nation, and brought to mind valid concerns for the safety of the Kennesaw State University community," said KSU President Daniel S. Papp, who was appointed in July 2006. "While no campus can absolutely prevent such a tragedy from occurring, all of those who are charged with the safety and security of Kennesaw State University have taken, and are taking, numerous steps to ensure the security and safety of KSU's students, faculty, staff, administrators, visitors and guests."
Responsibility for ensuring security and safety falls to the Strategic Security and Safety Department, headed by Lang, which is expanding KSU's emergency plan to encompass any situation that could happen on campus, certifying crisis managers and creating an entirely new communications method. In addition, the department is taking steps to ensure the new emergency plan - unlike the old one -- is widely available.
Prior to Lang's arrival, the school's emergency plan resided on the KSU Police Department's intranet, and required a password to obtain, Lang said. "Which is really not a good situation to have, because you want as many people [as possible] to know how to evacuate," he said. "By having that plan password protected, people not only did not know where it was, but there was some confusion on whether we had one or not."
Because the police department staff created the former plan, they knew it existed, Lang said, but there was no training, public relations or education relative to crisis management being conducted. "Nobody pulled [the plan] out and read it, and the reality was nobody even knew what was in it," Lang said.
"We're now moving out of that realm because of the amount of population we have here," he said, noting that KSU has more than 20,000 students, and approximately 5,000 faculty and staff members. "We're trying to change that culture, change that philosophy of inclusion versus only a need-to-know type thing."
So now, KSU's emergency plans will be readily available, giving students and staff information on how to evacuate buildings, what to do during an emergency and where to assemble.
In addition, the old plan - a single document designed solely for a police response - is being expanded. Previously it told police officers how to operate when they responded to emergencies, but Lang is working to create a plan that encompasses every potential situation that could ultimately happen on the campus.
"Not only is it terrorism and active shooters, like at Virginia Tech, but it includes the natural disasters and how to mitigate those ... the flooding, the tornadoes, the hurricanes," he said.
The plan also accounts for the fact that KSU's campus is adjacent to Interstate 75, a major highway, and near a rail line that frequently transports hazardous materials. "We really need a plan that's going to tell people what to do, and not just evacuate," Lang said. "When a chemical spill happens, you need to shelter in. So we're trying to put all of those, as much as we can, into a document that people can easily
read and understand."
Besides gathering all training material for the new emergency plan and pulling in subject-matter experts from around the area to help, Lang said KSU will certify crisis managers. "We want to put in a certificate program for the crisis group so we can generally train," he said. The training will include identifying and dealing with explosives, using fire extinguishers, performing first aid and using an automatic external defibrillator.
"All of these things are playing into a large program where everyone will be a player, versus two or three people in the police department telling people what to do," Lang said. "We're trying to train people so that when things do happen, we have crisis managers in the hallways with their vests on - the orange vests - with the whistles telling people how to get out of the building, telling them where to assemble. Then we do all the necessary things to mitigate the disaster or emergency."
Certified crisis managers will help evacuating people and assist in other public safety efforts. "What we've done here is we have a single point of contact, a single crisis manager, for every building. But because some of our buildings have two wings, four or five floors, you need a lot more people to help you out," Lang said. "So they recruit one for each end of the building for each floor. You're looking at probably eight to 10 additional people trained and being able to assist during an emergency."
Another a top priority, Lang said, is creating entirely new communications methods, including a Web page for training issues and implementing technologies to quickly spread the word about an emergency situation.
Though an e-mail system enabling mass dissemination of messages was already in place, communicating via other avenues is in the works.
The bottom line, Lang emphasized, is getting the word out to the people. Communication failures almost always are a factor in unsuccessful crisis response, he said. Lang pointed to 9/11 and the London bombings when cell towers were saturated so no one could call in or out. "These are the kind of things we still haven't fixed yet," he said, "so communications is the heart of not only the way to get the message out, but could be the heart of why things didn't work."
KSU recently contracted with the NTI Group Inc. to use Connect-ED - a Web-based solution that lets users send thousands of messages in minutes to cell phones, home phones, PDAs and work phones, and it distributes notifications via e-mail, voicemail, text message and teletypewriter or telecommunications devices for the deaf (TTY/TDD). Connect-ED also tracks delivery to recipients.
The university conducted its first test using Connect-ED in mid-December 2007, sending 64 voice messages, which were received within one minute, Lang said, adding that it will likely take a bit longer to notify all 25,000 of KSU's students and staff. In the test, Connect-ED verified that 61 voice notifications were received - three messages weren't received due to inaccurate telephone numbers.
Messages were clear at both the start and the end of the drill, but an internal survey noted minor discrepancies, such as most message recipients had given incorrect telephone data - inputting an office phone versus a cell phone. E-mails, were received as planned shortly after the voice messages arrived.
The test covered voicemail and e-mail only, as the Strategic Security and Safety Department didn't have time to set up a text simulation with the cell phone carriers due to potential spam issues. Lang said that's the next test.
Overall, he said, officials were satisfied with the new procedures. However, there were some lessons learned.
"We needed clearer evacuation instructions from our crisis managers,"
Lang said. "Most people don't know north from east, so we need to identify exits via color or signage."
Also, because the building used during the exercise has a four-story open foyer, the whistles used by crisis managers weren't heard clearly, so they will need to blow the whistles harder and longer. In addition, multiple assembly areas need to be identified as options ahead of time to react to specific circumstances.
Lindsay Martin, a KSU senior, said she already considered the campus safe, partially because of the existing mass e-mail system, but knowing that additional improvements are under way makes her feel more secure.
"If there are any issues going on on-campus, they send out, not like a warning threat, scary-type e-mail, but just to make you more knowledgeable," she said. "It's nice to know they're in the works of getting a crisis plan. And [Lang] has an FBI background - that's really cool. It never ceases to amaze me the cool things that are happening here."
Ultimately KSU wants what Lang called a one-button solution.
"This is a problem a lot of universities are facing - they're putting in a lot of systems that are going to solve individual situations," he said. "For example, they're going to put in this notification system on the cell phone and the e-mail. Then they're going to go out and get an Internet protocol intercom system [to] talk to individual rooms, classrooms and buildings."
Lang said KSU also wants digital signage and an early warning system with sirens. Ultimately all of these systems need to be connected so hitting one button will activate all of them during an emergency situation.
"We want a one-button approach [that] sends out a message," he said, "and at the same time, sends the early warning sirens off; it sends a message through the intercom system; it sends a message to your cell phone, your text messaging, your e-mail, your fax, your regular phone in the office - all of that with one button. That's where we're going."
KSU is nearing an agreement for a one-button solution with Emergency Management Telecommunications Inc. for its SchoolCall911 product, which can notify via telephone, cell phone, fax, TTY/TDD, e-mail, page/intercom, FM radio, siren, satellite, Internet, pager, road sign and radio frequency.
KSU is working to solidify some aspects of the agreement. Lang said he wants to make sure the procurement process is done correctly and the university is getting a system that does exactly what it needs.
"I think we've identified the product; we just have to make sure we're getting what we think we're getting," he said, adding that at this point, the university is moving as quickly as it can to implement this plan. "We want the parents of the students who come here to feel comfortable that their student is taken care of, that we do know what to do, and that we are going to protect them and offer them a safe environment. That's the whole driving force of this thing."