What Is Your Reality?

A few months ago, a campus security director was in an administrative suite observing an emergency drill. He noticed that the receptionist was supposed to be simulating the emergency call to 911 to report a fire in the facility but had thus far not done so. He finally decided to prompt her by asking if there was anything she would need to do if the situation were real. She replied that she was not sure what she would do in this type of actual emergency. He then suggested that she should call 911 and that she should be sure to tell the dispatcher that she was participating in a drill by simulating the 911 call (the center had been briefed in advance to expect the call). She replied that she did not know the number. He told her that the number was 911, whereupon she stated that she did not know how to call 911. He could tell that his presence and his questions had rattled her and that she was under some stress, but quickly realized that if a real emergency were taking place, she probably would not be able to handle placing a call to report the emergency effectively.

Factor in the Effects of Stress
The effects of stress on human performance are well documented and should be taken into account when developing emergency preparedness plans; conducting training sessions; and when planning, coordinating, and evaluating emergency drills and exercises. Through a thoughtful application of these processes, the security director was able to identify a key staff member who was not emotionally prepared to function under even a slight amount of stress, let alone the extreme stress of an actual event. He was able to focus additional staff development efforts for this employee to become more likely to be able to function under the stress of an emergency, as well as identify the need for redundancy in communications for that facility in case the employee still locked up under pressure.

This is just one example of the reality of safety, security, and emergency preparedness that we must contend with for an effective campus safety program. There are also many examples in the arena of prevention and mitigation as well. Campus employees and students who prop open doors, create fire hazards, or otherwise create risk when their actions don’t match the reality of risk for the setting.

Prepare and Train for Human Behavior
These types of realities in human behavior and performance have long been a challenge, and most likely will be a challenge for many years to come. Fortunately, we can make considerable headway through thoughtful social marketing, training, and thoughtful drill and exercise programs that are all carried out in a campus-friendly manner.

Drill and exercise programs should remind staff that during emergency situations, the college’s or university’s condition might change, resulting in a larger response. The institution’s emergency personnel or community emergency officials may ask everyone on camps to seek safe shelter, shelter in place, evacuate, or lockdown buildings. All staff members must understand what each of these terms means and be prepared to assist others during an emergency.

Effective drills allow administrators to plan ahead and prepare their colleagues. Each department might consider a safety briefing at the beginning of each term or semester. If your departments do not currently provide a briefing, discuss the idea with your staff members and consider establishing this routine.

Take Action to Ensure Safety
The safety director mentioned earlier gathered powerful evidence that additional work was needed to prepare staff to function under actual emergency conditions. This allowed him to not only provide support for the employee who could not perform under the slight stress of a drill, but to build upon his department’s efforts to better inform and prepare other members of the campus community.