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September 21, 2023

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University has plans for emergencies

When water pipe breaks occur on campus – such as the ones which cut off water supply to Kohl, Kreischer and Harshman residence halls during yesterday’s snow emergency – someone has to plan how the University will react.

Bryan Benner, associate vice president for administration, is that man. Benner helps determine how other University officials will deal with crisis situations at BGSU.

“If we lose water supply to half of the residence halls, someone has to figure out how to provide services for these folks,” Benner said.

One role of Benner’s job is to ensure the University’s emergency response plan, a document that outlines the way campus offices and departments should respond to a crisis or disaster situation, is up to date and effective.

But severe winter weather isn’t the only urgent situation for which the University must prepare.

The emergency response plan has been under constant review for several years, sparked by national catastrophes such as hurricane Katrina and 9/11.

“After Sept. 11, we developed a crisis plan that’s still in effect today which allows the president of the University to basically pick up the phone and say, ‘Let’s get a response going,'” Benner said.

Most University departments have existing procedures for dealing with smaller crises – for example, an injury at the rec center can usually be handled by its staff, Benner said.

But if a problem affects multiple departments, two groups – a policy group and an operations group – decide how to handle the situation.

The operations group, which includes a series of directors ranging from the health center to public safety, develops recommendations for the policy group to consider. The policy group, made up of top University officials like the president, then analyzes this data and decides how to respond.

Those groups must know each emergency situation is different from the next, said Dave Heinlen, safety and health coordinator for the University. They must be prepared to deal with everything from a pandemic influenza outbreak to a university-wide technology crash to a natural disaster which could level the entire campus.

For example, Heinlen said, if a fire in Hayes Hall caused all servers in the University’s main technology center to crash, the University has a contract with another vendor which can provide back-up data if all is lost on campus.

In the case of pandemic influenza, the University would collaborate with Wood County health officials and organizations such as the Red Cross to find a solution.

As for natural disasters, while hurricanes don’t pose much of a threat to northwest Ohio, meteorologist Jay Berschback of Toledo’s WTVG-TV told The BG News in December 2005 it would take a tornado in the F5 category with winds of over 300 mph to level the University, “but they are very rare,” he said.

Benner said the goal of the emergency response plan is to not only create cooperation between campus departments, but also for the University to be in harmony with the city and county about what to do in a crisis.

Benner and Heinlen said they have been participating in table-top exercises in which local officials from police, fire and hospitals sit down and plan how they would react in the face of a particular emergency – a “what if” scenario, Heinlen said.

Heinlen said the exercises are so helpful that he wants the University to begin doing its own table-top exercises.

“The No. 1 scenario Wood County plans for is a train derailing,” Heinlen said. “Hazardous materials are shipped down the railroad tracks near the University every day.”

He said a toxic chemical spill would likely cause the University to quarantine students, as there would be little time for a full-scale evacuation.

But for people to know how to protect themselves in a crisis, the emergency response plan must also create ways to reach all students no matter what lines of communication may be out of order.

“A big problem we studied with Katrina was that cell phone towers were down, so people couldn’t reach their families,” Benner said. “Students should plan ahead with their families about how else they could communicate in a crisis or where they could meet.”

Benner said if an emergency occurred at BGSU, students on campus should depend on residence hall staff as a source of information.

Heinlen called the emergency response plan “fluid” – an ongoing project that “will never really be completed,” meaning the University will continue to look at how to best keep students informed – and safe.

“Our number one concern is always student safety,” he said.

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