Response to Exponent "Opinion: Safety police aren't policing safety"

Link to original Exponent article

In a Feb. 22 opinion column titled “Safety police aren’t policing safety,” Exponent writer Alisa Reyna attempts to discuss the important issue of campus safety. While one can appreciate Reyna’s concern, the writer has failed miserably to inform herself or the campus community on this critical topic. Given the context of ongoing debate and fear on the national level due to recent events, Purdue students deserve to not be misinformed about the emergency preparedness of their school. 

In the Feb. 22 column, Reyna states that “no specific actions are listed for any on-campus buildings in the Building Emergency Plans that the office provides.”  In reality, all campus building emergency plans are posted online with a clear link on the Emergency Preparedness and Planning Office home page despite the writer’s contention that they are not. The writer also specifically mentions the Wilmeth Active Learning Center and states that it took six months for the Emergency Preparedness Office to establish emergency procedures: That plan was posted on Aug. 25the day the building opened. For those interested in reviewing plans for specific buildings, follow this link, click on “BEP List,” and login with your Purdue career account information.

The writer rhetorically asks what the emergency planning office does on a day-to-day basis. As Chair of the Campus Health and Safety Task Force, I have had the privilege of meeting with many members of the emergency planning office to see and engage with what they do on a day-to-day basis to keep our campus safe. While this list isn’t comprehensive by any means, I thought readers deserved to have at least some answers to a question left completely unanswered, that may leave students with unnecessary fear that their university is not actively working to prepare for crises.

Working closely with Purdue police and fire departments, the office provides safety and emergency preparedness programming information for Boiler Gold Rush, the orientation program for incoming students. In addition, the office plans and hosts the annual campus safety day, which took place in September outside the Recreational Sports Center. This event, which has taken place for seven years, is designed to educate the campus community about available safety resources both on campus and in Greater Lafayette.

In 2017, nearly 3,500 people were reached with the office’s hazard awareness training. In addition, it also produces and annually reviews resource guides for faculty, staff, students, and visitors (this includes items like Purdue Pete safety videos, an emergency procedures guide, a “quick reaction” checklist, online training material, and safety posters).

In terms of outreach, the office partners with campus first responders (police, fire, emergency medical services, etc.) to help residence halls, fraternities and sororities, and cooperatives think about and plan for safety. The office also coordinates a monthly Campus Safety and Emergency Preparedness Committee meeting that reaches more than 50 members representing campus departments and external partners with the goal of providing information they can share for safety planning and preparedness purposes.

On its website, the Emergency Preparedness and Planning Office provides links to upcoming campus safety presentations that are open to students, faculty, and staff, as well as presentations that can be viewed online. Office director Ron Wright and assistant director Jefferson Howells also make themselves available to conduct on-site training upon request.

The office also is a key component of the Purdue ALERT mass notification system, which helps provide warnings in a timely way about incidents that represent an imminent threat to campus. This multi-layered system includes outdoor sirens, building fire alarms, text messaging and Twitter, digital signs, desktop computer alerts, alert beacons in large classrooms, mass emails, Boiler TV, and a campus status website. As part of this system, the office reviews outcomes from every Purdue ALERT and training exercise to help provide continuous improvement for responders.

In terms of planning, Wright and Howells created and annually update the campus integrated emergency response plan to help campus and area first responders react in an effective and coordinated way to a variety of incidents, from severe weather to public health incidents. They also have developed a comprehensive emergency procedures guide that covers a wide range of incidents and responses.

The writer did make one salient point, and that is that many of us don’t want to think about what to do in an emergency. However, it is incumbent upon each of us to do so. All of the planning, training and outreach done by the Emergency Preparedness and Planning Office will have a greater impact when we as students are willing to become active participants in our own safety.

As a first step, everyone should have at least some kind of personal safety plan. Also, “If you see something, say something”awareness is meaningless if you don’t notify campus responders. When in doubt, you can always call 911.

I would urge readers to go to the FAQ page on the emergency preparedness site. This is a great starting point to guide you to the wealth of resources available from the office.

As many of you might know, Purdue recently was ranked as the nation’s 12th safest college campus. Think about that for a moment.

Our campus, by nature, is opento students, to visitors, to the community. To be able to have that kind of access and still maintain a high level of safety is not a roll of the dice, good fortune or something “left to chance.” It’s a matter of what the Emergency Preparedness and Planning Office does every day in partnership with each and every one of you.