P!N Points: Campus emergency management involves ensuring safety of thousands

Emergency response coordination is a challenging task, especially for those who must oversee the safety of large populations with a broad diversity of needs. That is especially true within a university setting, which combines large numbers of residents who may have been present on campus for only a short time, and thousands of employees who travel to and from campus on a daily basis.

Lawrence Zacarese, the Assistant Chief of Police and Director of the Office of Emergency Management for the New York State University Police Department at Stony Brook University, is familiar with those challenges. Prior to his tenure at Stony Brook, Assistant Chief Zacarese was a member of the New York City Police Department, and he currently practices and maintains a New York State Paramedic certification and has worked for various agencies throughout New York City and Suffolk County, New York. He is also Deputy Chief Instructor with the Suffolk County Fire Academy.

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Assistant Chief Zacarese spoke about Stony Brook’s approach to emergency preparedness for the campus of more than 24,000 students, as well as several thousand faculty and staff.

Q: How did you develop your school’s emergency preparedness plan? Who is responsible for implementing it during an emergency?

The CEMP [Campus Emergency Management Plan] for the University was derived after conducting threat assessments and hazard vulnerability analysis of all areas of campus. I, as the Director of Emergency Management and Assistant Chief of Police, am responsible for the plan’s update, review and implementation in case of emergency.

Q: How do you notify the campus of severe weather procedures? What about students living off-campus?

We utilize several methods including our emergency alerting system (RAVE Alert), which includes email, voice and text messages if necessary. We also utilize our emergency management Web site which is frequently updated throughout significant weather events, as well as a Twitter and Facebook platform. In addition, we have 19 LCD panels throughout campus, which the Office of Emergency Management can “take over” in cases of severe weather to announce class cancellations, adjustments to schedule, etc. Students living both on and off campus are included in the cohort we capture with notifications, as well as all faculty and staff (a total population of 40-45,000 people).

Q: How can students and faculty prepare for severe weather?

Students and faculty are urged to follow our Twitter feeds which link directly to our campus Stony Brook Advisory page. In addition, all members of the campus community are encouraged to keep their contact information up to date and accurate so they can ensure they receive timely updates and dispersal of “preparation” tips as they come out.

Q: Do you have a system for parents to communicate with their children during emergencies?

We don’t directly coordinate communications between students and parents, but rather take an intermediary role and involve our media relations representative, office of student affairs and others that can vet the information and act as a conduit between students and their parents during a crisis.

Q: What are some of the most important items for students to have in their dorm rooms to be prepared in case of a severe weather emergency?

Students should have adequate food and water (basic staple products), warm clothing, batteries, flashlights and perhaps a NOAA emergency weather radio. They should also make sure they communicate evolving concerns (special needs, etc.) to the Office of Emergency Management.

Q: What are the 2-3 most important things to remember when experiencing an emergency weather condition?

  1. Follow the advice of local officials (campus, county, etc.) when it comes to travel on roadways and any applicable restrictions.
  2. Ensure adequate fuel levels in vehicles and emergency equipment are available if travel is necessary.
  3. Watch forecasts closely, particularly during periods of severe winter weather when forecasts tend to be unpredictable.

Q: How important is it for people who do not live/work/attend school in disaster-prone areas to have a disaster plan?

Experience has shown that all individuals (regardless of the areas they live, work or attend school) need to have a plan. Disasters (or even minor emergencies) can strike at any time and in an effort to be adequately prepared an “all hazards” approach for all individuals is recommended.