Crisis Confusion

In the wake of terrorist attacks, hurricanes and school shootings over the last 10 years, it has become common for schools to have a safety protocol for serious emergencies. But while Portland State does have some protocols for dealing with emergencies, many faculty and staff are unfamiliar with the procedures.

There is no requirement to educate faculty on the safety policies of PSU, according to Chuck Cooper, an environmental student health and safety consultant. “We don’t even go through the most minimal training,” he said. “As it is we’re pretty much just winging it, expecting someone else to take care of the problem.”

While campus public safety does put out a safety guide that addresses regulations and how to prevent crime and assault, it does not include rules regarding what to do in emergency situations.

The PSU “Emergency Procedure Manual” touches on bomb threats, armed intruders and civil defense emergencies but mostly covers environmental safety issues. In the case of an armed intruder, it advises the reader to remain in a locked room and behind furniture.

In contrast, California State University, Sacramento, a public institution comparable to PSU with an enrollment of 28,000 in a city with a population of several hundred thousand, publishes their extensive “Emergency Response Manual” on their Public Safety web site. 

Not only is this school’s manual easily accessible, according to Mike Christiansen, director of environmental health and safety at Sacramento State, staff and faculty are required to read it. “It is required of them and we monitor whether they complete it or not,” said Christiansen.

There is a move to require Portland State employees to be educated on the school’s emergency protocols. Ombudsperson John Wanjala is considering bringing up the subject to Mike Driscoll, vice provost of academic and personal budget academic affairs, at their monthly meeting.

But it can be difficult to pass such requirements, Cooper said, because it all depends on who is in leadership positions and what their values are.

Many professors and students have not read the emergency procedures manual or know what to do in an emergency situation.

“I don’t know if there is something I’m supposed to do,” said Jill Freeman, an instructor in the communications department. If she were in charge of a large group of people during some kind of situation she said, “I would just call 911 and Public Safety.”

In the case of an emergency, campus public safety and Cathy Dyck, interim vice provost of finance and administration will decide how to react to the situation.

Mike Soto, chief of Public Safety, said that once the office is notified of an emergency, they would contact every one they can via e-mail as well as sending out a telecom voicemail to every phone on campus. 

“If there is some kind of threat, we will give timely notice,” said Soto, adding, “after that, we will react according to the circumstances.”

According to Dyck, the head of each of the school’s departments will be contacted directly and each head has a call sheet of people to contact and notify in their own department of the situation.

Soto hopes to build on this idea by setting up an emergency contact for each building as well.  Although similar to what Dyck reported, Soto specified his plan as being a volunteer coordinator during an environmental emergency only.