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Vol 39  No 3
Sept. 21, 2006


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Campus crisis management plans continuously improving

by Leslie Vryenhoek

On Tuesday, Sept. 19, Memorial’s flags were lowered to half-mast during the funeral of the student who was killed in the tragic shooting at Montreal’s Dawson College on Sept. 13. The commemoration, typically reserved for those who have had a significant association with the university, was made as a sign of the university community’s respect for the late Anastasia De Sousa and in sympathy with her family and the faculty, students and staff at a sister higher education institution.

The horrific incident at Dawson College has heightened awareness across the country that emergencies can strike at any time and that appropriate plans must be in place to cope with crisis.

Memorial University has a detailed crisis management plan, and those who play key roles in responding to a crisis are well-versed in it, said Victoria Collins, director of Marketing and Communications.

“It is impossible to plan for every event, and every situation is different, but we have created an overarching, flexible plan of action that establishes roles and responsibilities, and details how information and resources will flow to all those impacted by the situation,” she explained. “Our plan also includes detailed responses for the crises that are deemed most likely to occur at or around Memorial’s campuses.”

Ms. Collins noted that training and exercises are regularly conducted to help refine the plan and related policies and procedures, and to test the university’s readiness. The university’s training activities range from attending workshops given by emergency measures organizations, to practicing crisis management and communications measures in “table-top” exercises, to staging mock crisis situations that involve actual deployment of personnel and materials.

“Our key crisis management personnel have taken the nationally accredited basic emergency management course and some have also had specialized training in operating an emergency operations centre.” She also noted that Memorial works with local emergency response organizations to test its emergency preparedness. “In collaboration with police and fire officials, we did an extensive deployment exercise a few years ago that was very helpful generally in refining our plan. This kind of testing and training also prepared us respond on Sept. 11, 2001, when Memorial was asked to house 500 airline passengers stranded in St. John’s.”

Providing vital information during and after a crisis is the responsibility of Marketing and Communications but the division is also working to generally increase campus awareness of good emergency preparedness practices.

“A website is in development that will provide general information on dealing with the emergencies that are most likely (though still improbable) to occur,” Ms. Collins said. When the website is posted later this month, she said, all members of the university community will be informed and will be asked to become familiar with the basics dealing with crises.

“Memorial is committed to the safety and security of everyone within our community,” Ms. Collins stressed. “The aim of our crisis management plan is both to provide a prompt and co-ordinated response to a crisis, and to do whatever possible to prevent or mitigate harm.”

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