Emergency system ineffective without communication

By The Columbia Chronicle

Columbia has a brand-new emergency notification system, but there is one problem-no one around campus knows how the million-dollar system works.

In the wake of the Northern Illinois University tragedy on Feb. 14, Columbia made the decision to re-evaluate the current notification system. The outcome was a complex system on mounted Visiplex strobe lights, speakers and scrolling monitors. Each classroom on campus has been outfitted with the new emergency strobe lights and speakers. Scrolling monitors are now located near elevators around campus.

However, students and professors alike are unfamiliar with this program and have not been issued proper instructions on what to do in case of an emergency.

Installing the new system was not only a good idea for the college and its students, but after the massacres at Virginia Tech and NIU, it was a necessary investment. The college has done an excellent job in choosing and installing the new equipment. But it has dropped the ball in the execution of the system.

In order to make this system effective for students and faculty, the college needs to implement a better communication system. Installing the new strobes, speakers and monitors was the first step, but the college simply can’t stop there. If the college does have a plan in place and further information about the system, it needs to be disseminated to Columbia’s some 13,000 students.

Not only have students and faculty not received any information about how the new system works, there is also no information about the system on the Campus Safety and Security website. Included are instructions in the event of a bomb threat or what to do if a weapon is found on campus, but there is no reference to how the new system will be used in such situations.

The college needs to communicate with all students and faculty exactly how this system works. At new student orientation, a representative for Campus Safety and Security should outline exact details of the system. Just as information about the Conaway Center is required in every syllabus, details and an outlined procedure regarding the new emergency system should also be included. Faculty members need to be given clear instructions about how the system works so they can manage their students in the event of an on-campus emergency. Instructions about the system should be posted in every classroom next to the emergency evacuation plan.

Although it is difficult to draw up an emergency plan for situations involving violence, a different plan should be created, outlined and practiced.

Lastly, students need to receive e-mails about updates and procedures regarding the new system.

Columbia has taken a step in the right direction, but thus far has failed on following through. Students and faculty need to know exactly how the new system works. We need to be made aware of its capabilities. In the event of an on-campus emergency, will the message broadcasted through the newly installed speakers be the same in every classroom? Or will messages differ depending on the location of the threat? Along with capabilities, students also must know the limitations of the system and understand when to rely on instinct over an unproven, untested, unexplained system.

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