Staff in the Department of Emergency Services at Western Carolina University stand ready for a long list of situations, most in the category of “when things go wrong.” Consider the descriptive words that can be found in their work plan: “crisis, catastrophe, disaster,
Theirs is a constant vigil to prevent harm and provide or coordinate assistance when needed, which means being ready for a long list of situations, such as natural hazards, man-made hazards and technological hazards. Part of their preparation was a campuswide disaster preparedness exercise in May.
The exercise, which involved a simulated “active shooter” incident on campus, was held to help law enforcement agencies, emergency responders and university officials evaluate current strategies and tactics relating to emergencies and disaster. It was a capstone to a series of exercises that the university has gone through over the last several years, said Shane Stovall, WCU’s director of
Stovall, hired in August 2015, is responsible for the development of personnel, plans, processes and systems to provide for safety, protection and preparedness. That means for people and property on the main campus in Cullowhee, as well as WCU facilities in Cherokee and at Biltmore Park in Asheville, and at Highlands
In addition to personnel from WCU, the exercise involved the State Bureau of Investigation, Jackson County Office of Emergency Management, Cullowhee Volunteer Fire Department and Harris Emergency Medical Services. The exercise was facilitated by EnviroSafe Consulting, a Burlington-based company specializing in helping organizations in their preparedness, emergency response and regulatory compliance programs.
“We want to make people feel safe and actually be safe,” Stovall said. “It is similar to managing a small city. Our challenge is it’s a largely rotating population. Every year, we have students who have been here before and others who have not. So that’s where a culture of outreach and
communication is so important for safety measures, providing the information needed to know your surroundings and taking the steps to take care of yourself. We want students, staff, faculty and visitors to be aware of their surroundings, to report suspicious activities and be an active partner in campus safety.”