New safety push eyes mass alert system

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HELP IS ON THE WAY — Southwestern College is looking to purchase a blue light emergency call system like those used at San Diego State University. These poles will help to improve campus security by providing students immediate access to campus police.Safety doesn’t happen by accident, the saying goes, and Southwestern College administrators insist the school is making progress on its on-again, off-again efforts to upgrade campus security. Photo by Pablo Gandara/ Photo Editor

A new college emergency plan, a mass communications system and blue light two-way communication towers are in planning stages, according to campus officials. A draft of the updated Emergency Operations Plan has been submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for approval, a process that could take up to six months.

Southwestern College has been putting off the revision of its outdated Emergency Operations Plan for several years due to leadership changes and lack of funding, according to college leaders.

SWC hired a certified consultant this year to write a new emergency plan. Campus Police Sergeant Robert Sanchez said it provides training, exercises, communications tests and a strategy for responses to an array of emergency situations. A preliminary draft reads: “It addresses a broad range of major emergencies that may significantly impact one or more district locations. Such events include earthquake, tsunami, hazardous materials emergencies, floods, terrorism, landslides, wildfires, acts of violence, communicable diseases, bomb threats and pests.”

College officials are shopping for a vendor that could provide a communications system. Capable of sending mass e-mails, voice calls and text messages to students and employees in the event of a campus emergency.

Ben Seaberry, director of institutional technology, said he is working on the mass communications system. College police and officials currently communicate emergency information to students via e-mail, the SWC website and Twitter, he said.

School officials will require all students to include their cell phone numbers on registration forms next semester to facilitate mass texts during crises, said Lillian Leopold, chief public information officer. A recommendation for a communications vendor will be brought to the superintendent by December, Leopold said.

SWC was criticized by its accreditation body for having an outdated emergency plan and directed to amend it, said Larry Lambert, online instructional support specialist.

SWC presently has a 15-member crisis response team. In an emergency the team would grab first aid kits and assess injuries and damage, said Lambert, a team member.

SWC Campus Police Chief Michael Cash said he has a great deal of experience with emergency planning, and was trained in emergency management and evacuation. Cash is a trainer for FEMA in emergency management and was emergency preparedness manager for Loyola Marymount University for three years. Cash said he has planned crowd control for the Super Bowl, the Chargers, Padres and NFL.

A blue light system on tall blue pillars would have broadcast capabilities, emergency lights and a two-way communication feature allowing students to immediately connect to the police dispatch center for help, said Leopold.

“The loud speaker would say you need to evacuate,” she said. “It will give instructions if there is an emergency.”

Cash said he hopes the blue light system will be installed next semester.

About $5.2 million is allocated for updated security, according to Leopold.

In the meantime, students are encouraged to call SWC’s new campus police hotline in case of an emergency. The number is (619) 216-6691 or 6691 from a campus phone.

“I’m a big fan of drills and being prepared,” said Cash. “I signed us up for the Great California Shakeout.”

SWC will be participating in a preparedness drill Oct. 18, he said.

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