In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the Virginia Tech shootings, emergency preparedness is not only a national concern but something UGA’s Office of Security and Emergency Preparedness hopes to get the university campus involved in.
In conjunction with National Preparedness Month in September, the office wants to raise awareness about what to do in an emergency situation and is specifically promoting two relatively new initiatives—the UGAAlert emergency notification system and identification of building safety and security representatives—both of which will help manage emergency situations that might arise on campus.
“We just want the campus community to start thinking about preparedness,” said Opal Haley, director of security and emergency preparedness. “People don’t typically like to think about it. We have several emergency notification systems for emergencies, but people haven’t really thought about the specific actions they would take when a warning is issued.”
UGAAlert is one tool that can take some of the confusion out of what to do in an emergency. The system allows the university to send out messages via voice, text or e-mail to registered users—up to 2 million 60-second voice messages per hour.
The messages would alert university faculty, staff and students to emergency situations requiring immediate action, explain the situation and advise what action to take.
To get these notifications, the members of the university community can register for UGAAlert online (www.ugaalert.uga.edu).
Participation in the program is voluntary. However, registration is currently necessary so that the most up-to-date information for users is available. Each registrant can input up to three phone numbers and two e-mail addresses, and Haley encourages users to input cell phone numbers, which are often the most accessible devices.
The alert system operates 24 hours a day and will be used only when there is an urgent threat and immediate action is required. UGAAlert is not a replacement to ARCHNEWS, which sends out notifications such as school closings, but rather a supplement.
Another initiative, the identification of building safety and security representatives, is designed to improve emergency planning and preparedness efforts at the building level and to get departments who share the same building to work together for the safety of the building as a whole.
In the program, primary and backup representatives from each of the hundreds of occupied buildings on campus will be identified. Those individuals will be trained on how to manage a building emergency, should one arise. Representatives also will be identified for off-campus facilities.
Part of the program includes creating up-to-date emergency plans for each building and having each building’s plan reflect its most likely threats, whether it’s fire for older buildings or chemical spills in buildings with laboratories. The security and emergency preparedness office will provide templates and other help in making these plans.
“You think a lot of this is common sense—basic stuff, but when a disaster occurs emotions run high and logic is low, ” said John Newton, UGA’s emergency operations coordinator.
Neither program is a direct response to the shootings at Virginia Tech. Both programs had been proposed before the tragedy occurred. Last fall, the security and emergency preparedness office reviewed emergency plans and determined the two programs were needed.
UGAAlert had its first trial in December 2006, and its first full system test had already been planned before the Virginia Tech shootings. The office plans to test the alert system again during September. The date has yet to be determined, but users will be notified 24-48 hours before the test.
Registration for the building representatives program began in July, and plans are in place to hold training and orientation sessions next month.
UGA was already testing its notification system prior to the Virginia Tech tragedy, and when compared to other universities is ahead of the curve as far as emergency notification, according to Haley, who said that many other universities have modeled their programs after UGA’s.
“Now, virtually every institution that didn’t have a system like this is in the process of implementing one,” she said.