Bomb Threat - Campus Evacuations Creating safe spaces for education

When comparing UPEI’s bomb threat evacuation plan with other Canadian campuses, it is evident the university needs to improve and promote a new evacuation plan.

"10:56am. Intro to Social Psychology. The girl sitting six seats to the left of me in our lecture theatre raises her hand. Our professor gives her the room’s attention. She says, “I don’t want to make anyone panic, but my sister just texted me and apparently all schools across PEI are under a bomb threat.” The air left the room. Sound left the room. Our thoughts left the room, until our professor spoke again. It took several minutes before my professor could confirm this. It didn’t come from a security guard, an email, or even from the university. It wasn’t on the school website. It came in the form of a call from her daughter’s elementary school. That is a problem." - Testimony from Halen Sky

After the recent evacuation of the University of Prince Edward Island, we decided to compare our evacuation plan with those of other Canadian campuses. We chose the University of Ottawa, the University of British Columbia, and Memorial University in Newfoundland. These three campuses have implemented efficient evacuation procedures that we studied in great detail. We were able to easily access their procedures and will discuss them further throughout this report.

The University of Ottawa has a school population of more than 45,000 students and staff, with a campus size of 105 acres. Their evacuation plan was created for all students and staff, including students living on campus in residence (UOttawa.ca).

1. Remain calm and residence students are told to close and lock their doors.

2. All students are to leave by the nearest, safest exit. Each building on campus has a specified meeting location where students are to meet in case of an evacuation.

3. Students are not to return to the evacuated area until further instructed.

4. Students are not to use cellphones so they do not block the cell towers for all first responders.

The University of Ottawa has a really efficient method of informing their students and staff of any emergencies, including evacuations called UOttawa Alert. When students begin their studies at the university they register for UOttawa Alert and then get to personalize how they want to receive any alerts. Alerts can be sent in text messages to students’ cellphones, emails to any provided address, or screen alerts that pop up on any computer or laptop. Students can register for one of these options or they can register for any combination. The screen alerts are also programmed for every computer on campus so that if students are in a lecture the alert will pop up on the big screen. Alerts are also posted on the university’s social media accounts, website, and their emergency info line (UOttawa.ca).

All the information on the University of Ottawa’s evacuation plans can be found on their website. The information is extremely easy to find and is readily available to the general public. This could be both an advantage and a disadvantage. It is very easy for students to access the information; during an emergency this could be very beneficial. The downside is that a potential threat, such as a bomber, can easily find the information and see what the course of action would be for all students and staff.

The University of British Columbia has a total 69,000 students across two campuses. The main university in Vancouver, UBC, has 61,000 students spread out over a 993 acre campus. The secondary campus in the interior of the province, UBCO (University of British Columbia Okanagan), has 8,000 students on a 516 acre campus.

Though they are two different campuses and schools, the emergency procedures at both schools follow the same rubric. The universities have an 8-step process detailing what to do in event of an emergency.

1. Shut down equipment & hazardous materials.

2. Calmly proceed to nearest exit.

3. Follow instructions from emergency personnel.

4. Do not use elevators.

5. Walk – don’t run.

6. Move away from building (watch for falling glass & other hazards).

7. Go to emergency meeting location.

8. Never re-enter building until it is deemed safe to do so.

This plan is distributed in a few different ways. The first way is all first year students get an information package from the school. In this info package there are many useful things for new students, including the school evacuation plan. Another place this info is available is in the UBC Safe app. This is an app that sends out alerts whenever there is an emergency and also has highly detailed plans on what students are to do in each different emergency situation. The last way to find the emergency plan for UBC is online. By simply searching “evacuation plan” on the schools website you will find the process of what to do during emergencies. You can also find different plans related to different emergencies on the website as well.

There are a couple problems with UBC’s emergency evacuation plans. The first is that although they have a general plan for evacuating all buildings, there is no plan for what would happen if residence has to evacuate. There are thousands of students on residence at UBC and there should be a plan for them all to follow if they have to safely leave campus. The second problem is the fact that the emergency plan is online on their websites which, makes it possible for someone who is targeting the school to know what the students would be doing during the crisis.

Memorial University is located in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. It has a school population of over 18,500 students and three different campus locations. The main campus is 279 acres in total, while the Grenfell campus in 185 acres, and the Harlow campus is 25 acres (mun.ca).

Memorial has ten different evacuation plans based on a hazard analysis in which they rate the probability of the emergency happening, the vulnerability of their campus to that emergency, and the impact the emergency may have. Bomb threats ranked high in the hazard analysis and therefore they have a readily made evacuation plan as followed:

1. When a bomb threat is received by telephone, initiate action to trace the call.

2. Notify Campus Enforcement and Patrol (St. John's 864-4100, Grenfell 637-2888) immediately, giving as many details as possible.

3. If a threat is received in writing, notify CEP immediately and turn over the document to them. Handle the document as little as possible as it may be useful in an investigation.

4. Do not touch any suspected item. Should a suspected item be located, notify CEP immediately.

5. CEP will initiate action in accordance with established procedures.

6. CEP, in consultation with external police forces, will search and/or evacuate applicable areas as deemed necessary.

If advised to evacuate:

1. If advised to evacuate, either by the sound of the fire alarm in the building or by CEP personnel, remain calm. Do as directed - do not waste time. If it can be done without undue delay, take outdoor clothing, handbag, briefcase, etc. with you.

2. Evacuate by the nearest accessible exit. Keep clear of the building.

3. Go to the nearest assembly point unless advised otherwise. Instructions regarding returning to the building or other information will be given as soon as possible.

4. The University has a bomb threat plan, and personnel have been trained to cope with the situation. (mun.ca/emergency)

What may be the most impressive part of Memorial’s emergency plan is MUN’s campaign to bring awareness to students. A series of posters bring attention to the school’s emergency portion on their website so that students are well prepared, each poster with a hilarious twist that makes you want to read them. The school also has an app called “MUN Safe” which includes features on the front interface with a direct link to every evacuation plan necessary, as well as a “Friend Walk” feature which allows a student to notify another student that they are walking home alone so the friend can track their progress. The app also has a push notification feature that sends a notification of any emergency to the phone owner. On top of the app, Memorial uploads an alert across its website so anyone can check for emergencies and the university offers bi-weekly emergency training to any staff that want it (mun.ca/emergency).

Memorial’s plan is incredibly accessible and easy to find, which is great for students, staff, and faculty, but could also be dangerous for a person really looking to harm others. While MUN seems to have a great promotion for its bomb threat evacuation, there are still some foreseeable issues. First and foremost, the school assembly points for evacuation are their parking lots, and the school maps list them for anyone to see. A very intentional bomber could easily actually place a bomb in one of these assembly points and create a diversion that facilitates an evacuation. It doesn’t seem as though residence students have a designated place to go besides a parking lot either. All of the information for MUN’s evacuation plan is public and easy to find, which could be the school’s biggest strength and also its biggest liability.

The University of Prince Edward Island has a population of roughly 4,400 students in addition to staff, with a campus size of 140 acres. Our evacuation procedure was recently put to the test when all Prince Edward Island schools were under a bomb threat (Emergency Procedures Manual).

1. The activation of all fire alarms will signify the necessity for an evacuation.

2. Each building has a specific plan and meeting place that students are to follow in the event of an evacuation. Windows and doors are to be locked and students are to leave by the nearest, safest exit following their established route.

3. They are to wait at their predetermined assembly points and to await further instruction.

UPEI has a very basic plan that can be found in an emergency procedures document located on their website. The document is very difficult to find and holds more information about what to do if a bomb threat is phoned in than the actual evacuation procedure. The information is publicly available to anyone willing to put in some time and effort to find it.

As was noted during their recent evacuation, UPEI’s procedure is very problematic. First there was no activation of any fire alarms and news of the evacuation was mainly spread by word of mouth instead of official university correspondence. News of the island-wide bomb threat was posted on social media hours before UPEI sent out their communications email. Also residence students were told to treat the threat as a "snow day" in other words, staying in residence going about their daily routines, while the rest of the campus was evacuated. For any students and staff trying to leave the campus by personal vehicles, it took between one to two hours to get out of the various parking lots around the campus. All in all the entire evacuation procedure was very unorganized and inefficient.

Our Recommendations

We believe UPEI should promote their new evacuation plan through NSO (New Student Orientation) due to the fact that it would lead to full exposure for all incoming students. It could be handed out in the “Welcome Packs” and/or explained by team leaders.

The new plan should also be promoted through various unique posters like Memorial has done. Colourful posters placed in an area that is uncrowded from other advertisements will catch the eyes of students and get them to read the message.

Now that the UPEI Student Union has a new app the new evacuation plan could be included on the app, giving it great exposure to most students since the vast majority have smartphones and are able to download the free app.

Residence students should be evacuated in the case of a threat. During our recent evacuation, residence students were told to treat the day as a “snow day” placing them in danger in the case of an actual bomb. We spoke with RLA Evan Hawley, and were told the current assembly point is the parking lot by the Wanda Wyatt Dining Hall. We feel this is not a safe area in an actual emergency and believe their meeting point should actually be in a location off campus such as the Superstore parking lot.

U of Ottawa and UBC have an excellent alert system that notifies all students of any emergencies, such as evacuations. UPEI should follow these schools and create a system that students can sign up for to personalize how they would like to receive their notifications.

Evacuation plans and more importantly, assembly points, are confidential information that is essential to student safety. Since the UPEI campus login is a secure location that can only be accessed by people with a campus ID, the new evacuation procedures and assembly points should be made available on there. Also campus login is not available from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am, so we suggest having the information portion made available in case of an emergency during that time frame.

Proposed Plan

1. All students should remain calm. Panicking will only make the evacuation procedure more difficult and cause more stress than actually necessary.

2. Each building should have an off-campus predetermined assembly point that is made available on the campus login, which prevents public access while making it easily accessible to all students and staff. All students should leave by the nearest, safest exit and meet at these locations.

3. Students should leave campus by foot if possible, in order to minimize traffic flow for any first responders and eliminate wait time for the evacuation of others.

With our recommendations and proposed plan UPEI will improve efficiency when evacuating by better promoting the plan, making it accessible to those necessary, as well as taking students off campus to wait for assistance.

Research and proposed plan done by: Bryanna LeClair, Halen Sky, and Matt Brar

Works Cited

Azizi, Joshua. "BC Universities Have Released Campus Safety Apps - Will UBC?" The Ubyssey. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

"Emergency Management | Bomb Threat." Memorial University, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 30 Nov. 2015, www.mun.ca/emergency/emergencyplans/bomb.php.

"Emergency Management | Emergency Management at Memorial." Memorial University, Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2016, www.mun.ca/emergency/.

"Evacuation." Evacuation | Risk Management Services. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

Hawley, Evan. Personal Interview. 15 November 2016.

"Residence Standards." UBC Student Housing and Hospitality Services. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2016.

University of Prince Edward Island. Emergency Procedures. June 2005. http://files.upei.ca/emergency/emergency_procedures_manual.pdf.

uOttawa. https://www.uottawa.ca/are-you-ready/what-to-do/evacuation. Accessed 13 November 2016.

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