The recent fatal shootings across America have brought campus security to the forefront of the minds of many students at The W.
Mississippi University for Women administrators, campus police department and local law enforcement continually train and make plans for all types of emergencies. Every situation is different, and practice drills give them an opportunity to learn from each other. Resources are combined, and each entity has a role and responsibility. Students are able to get involved, too.
Since the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999, law enforcement and campus security have revamped how they deal with emergency situations.
"It's a team effort ─ everyone has a role. We follow the NIMS federal guidelines and our deputies continually train on a monthly basis," said Chris Prine, the Lowndes County sheriff.
The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is a standardized approach to incident management developed by the Department of Homeland Security. This proactive system gives guidance to emergency responders. NIMS shows team members how to work together in different types of emergencies, both large and small. The main objective is to save lives.
There have been at least three practice situations in Columbus in 2015. Each featured a different scenario with the potential for mass casualties, from a downed helicopter to a derailed train that carried hazardous materials. Several departments were required to work together to handle the situation, with none of the involved departments knowing the full details of the situation at hand. The drill unfolds as if it were real life.
"The plan changes for every incident," said Tony McCoy, assistant police chief for the city of Columbus. "We didn't find out there were hazardous materials at the train derailment incident until after our traffic officer responded."
The initial call was for a wreck between a vehicle and a train. Once first responders arrived, details were added to the scenario, and responders found out that the train was carrying hazardous materials. From that point, the plan changed. The fire department, local hospital and ambulance workers were called in to help.
Communication is key to the operation for every crisis. Each responding department has a representative at the scene. As the information comes into the command center, it is shared and discussed. Jurisdiction dictates who is in charge most of the time, but each incident is different.
"We are looking at upgrading to a statewide operable radio system that would allow all state agencies to communicate with each other in a crisis situation," said Nora Miller, senior vice president of administration and chief financial officer for The W.
The shooting at Delta State involved the Mississippi Wildlife Federation and the Mississippi Highway Patrol. It was unusual for them to be included in an emergency-type situation, and it was difficult for everyone to communicate using the current system.
Miller's main role at the Crisis Command Center is Emergency Operations Manager and Chief Information Officer for The W. Depending on the disaster and who is on the scene, she could work with the local or state emergency management agency and coordinate efforts with them. She also helps decide when to alert the students and faculty about situations off campus.
"MUW President Jim Borsig makes the decision to declare a state of emergency on campus," said Miller.
The W has its own police department with nine sworn officers. The campus police chief would take the lead role if something happened on campus. He proactively looks for ways to make the campus safer with the help of the Student Government Association, as well as other organizations, students, faculty and staff.
"Recently, we conducted a lighting survey on campus and identified areas we feel like are less well-lit than we would like, so we are going to increase lighting and trim back trees in those areas," said Danny Patton, police chief at The W.
There are currently six emergency "blue phones" on campus. Patton explained that if someone picks up the phone and presses the button, it immediately calls the campus police and tells them to respond in that area. They plan to add more of these phones in key areas.
Patton recommended that everyone sign up for W Alerts. He also mentioned that if someone feels unsafe, the campus police are willing to follow that person to his or her residence hall or apartment in a patrol car.
"There are three things students can do to be safer on campus. Download School Dude, the crisis app, don't prop open the building doors on campus and report anything suspicious," said Miller.
The "School Dude" app is easy to install on your smartphone. After downloading, search and click on Mississippi University for Women to open the list. There are several types of incidents from which to choose. There is also a quick link if you need to call campus security.