The Human Chord


What happens when thousands of people on campus are left in the dark at Southwestern College? Absolutely nothing. We have no safety plan.

There is no excuse for this. It is pure negligence. This is especially disquieting for a 50-year-old institution for higher learning that has had its share of near misses in the recent past.

Walking around campus shortly after the largest blackout in San Diego County history, I saw that faculty had no choice but to make decisions on their own. Some gathered classes outside while others immediately sent students home. Faculty members did an excellent job in handling the situation as best as they could. But that is not enough in an uncertain, possibly dangerous situation.

I somewhat expected to see campus leadership spreading the word that the campus was closed, but I saw nothing. Most of them were just as much in the dark as the rest of us.

Someone from the college tweeted the news about the power outage and eventually the closing of the campus, but with only 332 followers, it is not even close to being an effective way to communicate to the 20,000-plus campus community. Two people walking the campus with a bullhorn is a better solution than relying on the college’s Twitter account.

Some cell phones died immediately and some maintained service but experienced delays in getting messages and calls due to system overload.

In this day and age, emergency text messaging systems like San Diego State’s are the quickest and most reliable way to reach a majority of the campus community. It is highly unlikely that there is any office, classroom or campus facility that will not have at least one person with a cell phone that has texting capacity.

My next-door neighbor works at Mendoza Elementary School in San Diego near Imperial Beach. Within 20 minutes of the blackout all faculty, staff and parents were sent text messages, and school grounds closed safely and orderly. She could not comprehend that SWC has no safety plan and expressed shock at the college’s inability to communicate with people on campus. She said bad management and poor planning is the only excuse for this and was happy her daughter no longer attended this college.

Her daughter was in class at SDSU and came home shortly after the blackout because the college has an emergency text messaging system in place.

Emergency text messaging is not the answer to all emergency situations, but it is a good place to start. In dire scenarios, emergency text messaging is not the answer if all service is lost. That is why it is called an emergency plan. Plans have to cover every contingent emergency.

Scenarios involving earthquakes, fires, predators, health epidemics and shooters need to be planned, practiced and understood by every person on campus. With our proximity to the border, SWC needs to address issues that many colleges might not, like the recent collapse of scaffolding at the San Ysidro/Tijuana border crossing.

It is fortunate in this case that it was only a blackout. If not for my android, I could have sat in the dark for a long time, completely unaware of what was happening and what to do. In a situation like this, faculty and staff could have just as easily led students out into the center of a major crisis, possibly even a shooting zone.

Now that SWC has cleaned out its corrupt former leaders and regained accreditation, it needs to get serious about a safety plan. Former Campus Police Chief Brent Chartier did not want the responsibility, so the college needs to find a competent grown-up to lead the effort.

Mother Nature has a temper and all the great engineering of man has flaws. Before our next cascading blackout SWC needs to employ some cognitive candlepower and come up with a workable emergency plan that is understood by all employees. Safety is job one, so it is time to get busy.



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