How to handle an emergency

On March 7, two students were injured in a shooting at York University in Toronto. Twenty-two year-old Kemon Edwards was subsequently arrested for firing a shot in the University’s food court area around 11 p.m. After police searched Edwards’ residence they also arrested five other individuals on gun and drug related charges.

The police do not believe the shooting was targeted and it is speculated that it was an accidental firing of the gun as Edwards moved through the area, however, one student was shot in the leg and another injured by shrapnel from the shot.

The shooting, which is not thought to be an orchestrated attack, still awakens fear and concern about safety for those attending or working at universities such as UVic. Daphne Donaldson who is UVic’s emergency planning manager, and Tom Downie director of campus security state in an email, “Not all emergencies can be prevented, but the most important step to prevent active threat situations is to report any suspicious behaviour or activity taking place. Campus Security and the police take reports of suspicious activity very seriously and will take action if appropriate, but they rely on members of the campus community to advise them of any unusual or suspect behaviours.”

UVic has several safety measures for emergencies on campus, and has only had two robberies in the last 20 years—one in the bookstore and one in Accounting Services. Threats such as domestic or harassment issues occur from time to time but are usually dealt with at the campus security level. UVic’s emergency management focuses on developing teams on campus that can respond to emergencies and help the campus recover after an incident. The emergency response teams are created from over 500 members of staff, faculty and students. UVic, however, suggests that every member of the campus community has a role in emergency preparedness. Students can be prepared by keeping themselves aware of any dangers through UVic’s Emergency Alert system. The Emergency Alert allows UVic to contact students through text messages, e-mail or telephone in the instance of emergencies.

The UVic alerts system is tested twice a year in May and October. Donaldson and Downie say, “Specific parts of the UVic Response Plan are exercised regularly (e.g. the Executive Policy Group, the Emergency Operations Centre team etc.). We use different types of exercises and drills from small case studies, tabletop exercises to larger functional exercises.”

UVic, with the approval of local police forces, has also added active threat procedures to their plan. The active threat procedures offer three solutions for school shootings. The three solutions—evacuate, hide out, and take action—advise students to keep their hands visible and obey police instructions when evacuating. If hiding out in an emergency situation, a student should barricade entryways, close windows and blinds, stay behind solid objects and minimize the risk of being noticed by shutting off lights and cell phones. The final “take action” step is the last resort suggestion of confronting the violent or potentially violent person to incapacitate the threat.

Even with emergency procedures in place, the ideal goal for UVic is to take preventative measures, whether that is notifying Campus security early or supporting someone who may be troubled. Donaldson and Downie say, “The key step is advising Campus Security or the police, then an assessment can take place before an active threat occurs. When a student, staff or faculty member is in crisis, the appropriate people meet immediately to determine the action required—usually it takes the form of identifying the type of support the individual requires.”

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