Preparing For The Worst
High Point University participates in Protect-in-Place drill following incidents on campuses across the country
- By Gus Porter, MPH, CPH, Jeff Karpovich, MA, CPP, CHPA
- June 01, 2018
It happened at 11:46 a.m. on a Friday, just three weeks before
the Parkland shooting. A southeastern university issued a
campus-wide emergency notification advising a gunman was
on or near campus, and that individuals should seek protective
The incident was scary, but no gunman existed. This scenario was
only an exercise where High Point University members, including students
(for the first time), participated in the “Protect-in-Place”
response strategy. (This campus chose not to use the “Lock-down”
term as it is a misnomer for a Higher Ed campus.)
Evaluators moved quickly through academic buildings checking
door handles and peering through door windows. Acting from the
perspective of an armed assailant, these evaluators noted any opportunities
that would have made them more capable of hurting their
intended targets. At the end of the drill, an all-clear message was
announced and activities resumed as normal.
During the exercise “hotwash” or debriefing, the drill’s evaluators
assessed how well the university responded, what deficiencies were
noted as well and what can be improved. Each shared their observations
from their respective buildings, including who didn’t participate
in the drill or if any environmental obstacles created challenges.
Following the hotwash, emergency management and security staff
drafted an After Action Report (AAR) and Improvement Plan for
senior administration, outlining the strengths and areas of weakness
that the drill exposed. An AAR and improvement plan is created following
any exercise or real-world emergency and the recommendations
are prioritized and implemented, allowing for a process of continuous
EXERCISE DESIGN AND GOAL SETTING
The first step for conducting a successful exercise is to outline the
scope of the exercise by identifying intended goals. Target a particular
response procedure and/or systems. A common pitfall in exercise
design is that either goals are not clearly established or the exercise has
too many unfocused goals.
The school’s exercise goals were to test and evaluate the emergency
notification system including all communication endpoints, including
building speakers, campus sirens, and the campus’ personal contact
information; assess the campus community’s ability to quickly receive
the notification and to seek protective shelter; and evaluate academic
buildings for any security vulnerabilities (e.g., doors without locks,
etc.) from an environmental/design perspective.
EDUCATING THE CAMPUS COMMUNITY
Emergency placards were installed in each classroom. The colorful
sign displayed information on common response considerations to
medical, fire, severe weather, and active violence incidents as well as
campus emergency contact information. While not everyone will read the information, their presence in prominent and visible locations in
each classroom reinforces the importance of preparedness on campus.
Additionally, a comprehensive all hazards emergency action plan was
digitally disseminated to the entire campus community.
CONDUCTING THE DRILL
A comprehensive and detailed schedule of events, otherwise known as
a Master Scenario Events List or MSEL, guided the flow and timing of
the drill. The MSEL serves as the overall exercise playbook and guides
the actions of the drill.
University security dispatch launched the mass notification alert
advising the campus of the exercise start. Evaluators attempted to enter
classrooms and noted any unsecured doors, lights left on, lack of drill
participation and any design flaws in the physical room. Some rooms
pose significant challenges—large glass windows, doors and walls
necessitate a different strategy. Students and faculty need to recognize
their space’s vulnerabilities quickly and determine if the area can be
fortified or if evacuation is necessary.
The fire alarm was activated in three buildings as an additional exercise
inject for confusion and and stress. Fire alarms have been used by
some attackers to lure people into an open space, just like the Parkland
shooter did on Feb. 14. Most classrooms continued to remain in place;
however, some did evacuate.
Communication. Numerous and redundant paths of communication
are essential for disseminating information to the campus. The drill
reinforced that text, email, siren and phone calls may not be sufficient.
Expanding campus notification through building speakers and additional
outdoor siren/PA system, as well as ensuring that all classrooms
are equipped with classroom intercom phones, is critical for ensuring
emergency notifications are received.
Access Control. Though the university has modified classroom
doors’ locks over a phased multi-year program, not every classroom
can be locked from the inside without a key. This exercise helped to
identify some areas of campus that did not have locks installed or presented
structural challenges (e.g., windows, glass walls/doors).
Outreach. Since campuses generally gain and lose a quarter of the
student body each year there is a continued need for increased student
outreach and engagement. To this end emergency management staff are
partnering with the Student Government Association to create a campus
safety subcommittee comprised of student leaders to identify studentcentric
solutions and means of improving the campus safety program.
Repetition. One drill is not sufficient. Consistent training and exercises
are required. The discussions and learnings prompted by this
exercise illustrated the importance of an emergency management
training and exercise program and helped achieve additional program
support and buy-in from university leadership. The next campus-wide
exercise has already been scheduled.
ESSENTIAL PLANNING ELEMENTS
In order to successfully conduct a Protect-in-Place response drill, you
will need to take into account these essential planning elements:
- Set clear goals and objectives.
- Communicate what you are doing any why with your campus
- Train your campus on the response expected of them.
- Conduct your exercise with ample evaluators.
- Schedule the next exercise and repeat the process.
However, the greatest obstacle to conducting a successful exercise is
overcoming the fear of performing poorly. “Failing” is perhaps the
main reason for resistance when conducting drills and exercises. Paradoxically,
an exercise that does not identify areas of weakness that can
be improved upon is itself a failure. Institutions conduct exercises to
identify points of weakness and failure so that these areas can be
strengthened or corrected in a low-stress environment versus having
to discover these weaknesses during a real-world emergency.
Conducting a campus-wide emergency drill requires significant
internal and external partnerships and support, a defined goal and set
of objectives, and a clear commitment from senior leadership/administration
to support the campus emergency management program.
Emergencies occur with little or no advanced warning. Emergency
management programs must recognize this reality in order to prepare
the organization to respond adequately. While training police, fire, and
EMS is critical for effective incident response, too often faculty, staff and
students are excluded from hands-on training which leaves this vulnerable
group ill-prepared to protect themselves in an actual emergency.
How does a university include the entire campus in drills without
disrupting academia or instilling unnecessary fear amongst the campus
community? It’s a delicate balance but it can be done.
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of CSLS.