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 Therefore, the original plan - based on an outdated culture and school structure - needed to work for twice the number of people.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.

 

Changing Culture

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

Jessica Jones  |  Associate Editor