College hires safety plan consultant

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It has been a relatively quiet first 50 years at Southwestern College, but campus officials are planning for the worst while hoping for the best.
SWC hired an outside consultant to draft an emergency preparedness plan for the district that meets state and federal standards.
Given to the care of Carolyn J. Harshman, Emergency Planning Consultants (EPC), the contract totals $81,000 and will be an 18-month process.
Acting Chief of Police Robert Sanchez said he was selected as product manager in the emergency preparedness process because of his prior experience at Mira Costa College.
“Southwestern is in the same boat Mira Costa College was in five years ago,” he said. “They did not have a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan. I was involved from the ground floor as Mira Costa went through the process of constructing an emergency preparedness plan. I know how it works first hand. I have enough knowledge of how it works and how the plan is suppose to be implemented.”
Sanchez said updating the plan and hiring a outside consultant has been in motion since late last year. Recent incidents are a reminder that the plan needs to be a priority, he said.
“The blackout, the student taking an attempt on their life, the incident with Oscar Torres last year making threats to pull a Virginia Tech on the campus, are all reminders,” he said. “They’re little flashing neon signs saying ‘clue, clue.’ These are clues that we need to make good on this plan and get this plan in place as quickly as we possibly can.”
Sanchez said that Harshman was chosen out of the five companies that applied for the contract because of her experience developing emergency plans.
“The fact that she has worked very closely with school districts, including community college school districts, is the reason why she was above everybody else,” said Sanchez. “She actually wrote the emergency preparedness plan for San Diego Community Colleges.”
Harshman is a San Diego native and a graduate of Southwestern College who earned her M.A. in public administration from SDSU and has been a disaster consultant since the mid-1980s. Clients include the Sweetwater Union High School District and the San Diego Community College District. Harshman said she was chosen because of her abilities and experience with drafting local emergency preparedness plans, specifically in the San Diego region.
“This will translate perfectly to Southwestern College,” she said. “I think the fact that I am local and have such extensive experience in disaster management in the San Diego community. I think a local presence was very important to the interview panel. You don’t want somebody to fly in to have to do this kind of work.”
Sanchez said an outside consultant had to be hired.
“The district had no other choice than to bring someone from the outside that was an expert so that we meet federal and state mandates,” he said. “Let’s say an earthquake takes place and we lose four or five of our buildings. Right now because we don’t have an emergency preparedness plan that meets state and federal standards, the cost of rebuilding those buildings would be on us. The district would have to find money to repair those buildings.”
Sanchez said the district has an emergency response manual that was drafted during Dr. Serafín Zasueta’s presidency more than a decade ago.
“The district does have something in place and people were saying that the district doesn’t have anything in place at all and that’s not very fair,” said Sanchez. “The problem is that it doesn’t meet (current) state and federal mandates and it was never updated and stayed on top of. If it was, we would have a full blown emergency preparedness plan that’s comprehensive.”
Harshman’s contract includes the higher education centers.
“She is going to make an emergency preparedness plan for the main campus, then she’s going to take that main draft and she is going to tailor make it to each one of the higher ed centers—San Ysidro, Otay Mesa, National City and the Crown Cove Aquatic Center,” said Sanchez.
Sanchez said drafting an emergency preparedness plan is time-intensive.
“This is not an easy thing, it’s not something that’s going to be done in three months,” he said. “You’re looking at drafting a plan to actually rolling a plan out. You’re looking at a total of two years.”
Harshman’s two-year contract includes writing the plan, and training of SWC staff and faculty. She said writing the plan is not difficult, but the planning process takes six months. Then comes the training of faculty and staff to specific positions and the tabletop exercises.
“Tabletop exercises are people in a room around a conference table and they’re assigned specific roles such as search and rescue and first aid medical positions,” she said. “A scenario is read and you systematically go around the room and people would practice on how to respond. Just how you have a lot of jobs on campus from a day to day basis you also have a lot of facility related jobs that come into play in an emergency.”
The safety committee will be involved in input and reviewing of the plan drafted by Hershman to make it specific to SWC, but certain state and federal mandates must be included.
“Her place is to bring us into compliance,” said Sanchez. “We need to weigh people’s opinions and inputs with what the plan is supposed to do for us. We need to have some confidence in her and her abilities and the job she’s done with previous districts and give her some autonomy to set up that plan to meet state and federal mandates with our input.”
Sanchez said the most important component is individual training for staff and faculty.
“A lot people think that the police department is going to run the emergency operation center and the emergency plan. We’re not,” said Sanchez. “We’re going to be dealing with the emergency, we can’t run the emergency operation center and activate the emergency plan when we’re out dealing with the emergency. This training is for everybody because everybody plays a part in this.”
Miguel Aguilera, the environmental, health and safety coordinator, said the training of individuals and the drills being in compliance are important but the biggest issue is a mass communication system.
“The emergency preparedness plan is not any good without a communication system,” said Aguilera. “We need to be able to notify, not just students, everybody that is part of the Southwestern College community.”
Harshman said that emergency notification is very important and SWC must have a quick ability to able to communicate with all the campus occupants.
“One of the things I’ll be doing will be looking at the different tools on the facilities and give recommendations on maybe branching out into other modalities, different methods of communication,” said Hershman.
Aguilera said the college is a long way from meeting requirements, but 60 percent better now than before.
“When we get an emergency preparedness plan and the communication (system), we’re going to be almost there,” he said.

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