Communication breakdown hinders students and staff

Shelly Beraza
Social Media and Web Manager

The campuswide scare on Feb. 6 at Pierce College Puyallup created chaos on campus, but it also became an opportunity for administrators to evaluate their emergency plans.

At about 9 a.m. that day, a 22-year-old man parked a black Honda Civic by the Brouillet Library/Science Building with what seemed to be a threatening note.

Some students thought the parked car was left as a prank so someone could get out taking a test. Many college employees didn’t realize a potentially dangerous situation was developing.

That day, Puyallup campus President Marty Cavalluzzi and Vice President of Learning and Student success Matthew Campbell were gone from their offices as well as most of the administrators including many of the deans.

According to Brian Benedetti, director of marketing and communication, designated staff members should take over in the event of an emergency.

“We use the Incident Command System in which the senior campus safety or facilities employee on site at the time is the incident commander until Chris MacKersie, director of safety and assistant director of facilities; Jim Taylor, director of facilities and construction manager; or Choi Halladay, vice president of administrative services, arrive as in the case of this incident,” Benedetti said.

While having the vice presidents in Mt. Vernon, Wash., and the Puyallup president at the Fort Steilacoom campus during the crisis was concerning, it wasn’t the only problem college officials encountered that day.

“During the normal operational period there are two campus safety officers on duty between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. Monday through Friday,” Benedetti said.

During the incident, one of the Campus Safety Officers, Alex Keeler, was taken to the hospital, which left only Campus Safety Supervisor Maureen Rickertsen to manage the incidence response as well as the Puyallup Police Department and Pierce College staff members.

As part of a public records request by The Puyallup Post, documents included emails from college employees. One staff member in the Financial Aid office, Veronica Luciani, had some major concerns. An excerpt from her email to Mackersie reads:

“We had absolutely no idea what was going on. The news stations knew what was happening before we did. It wasn’t until my co-worker’s mother called to check on her that we learned the school was being evacuated.”

While looking at public records, four main problem areas were examined in staff emails; alert time (there was a two-hour delay from the beginning of the incident until some people were notified), emergency alerts glitches, clarification of incident command roles (roles needed to be clearly defined and adhered to) and communication wrap up after the incident was over.

“An issue with the data upload to the college’s mass notification vendor was identified and rectified. In addition, the college is moving to monthly communication system tests,” Benedetti said. About 40 percent of staff and students signed up for alerts got them, another factor in why there were so many people that were going about their business instead of evacuating.

While this can make students feel nervous and confused about the future for emergency procedures on campus, the administration is taking more precautions.

“The college has participated in post incident assessments both on-campus with key emergency personnel and off-campus with Central Pierce Fire and Rescue and Puyallup Police Department in order to determine what worked well and what needs improvement for all responders,” Benedetti said. “Additional training is scheduled in April to help refine our emergency communications protocols and responses. Campus safety is planning on offering another day and evening active shooter training for students spring quarter.”

Officials in the Campus Safety and marketing and communication departments also are working together to enhance and improve communication during emergency situations so that students and staff can feel safer on campus and have better confidence in the system.

“The safety of our students and employees are our number one­­ concern, and we are committed to continually examine and improve our emergency procedures. We appreciate the cooperation of everyone during the evacuation and their patience during that difficult and disturbing day,” Benedetti said.

 

The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost

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Communication breakdown hinders students and staff

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