Staff attending a meeting about UCD’s new Emergency Response Plan were left confused as to their course of action should they encounter an emergency while teaching. According to the ‘Shelter, Shut, Listen’ protocol, staff are to immediately take to their offices in case of campus emergency to ensure they remain contactable.
However, many staff felt the guidelines failed to prescribe the appropriate action to take if they were lecturing when news of an emergency broke, as retreating to their office would constitute a dereliction of duty towards their students who would be left alone in classrooms or theatres. Confusion arose following a presentation by members of the University’s Critical Incident Response and Management team on Tuesday 26th January.
Dr Padraic Conway, the co-ordinator of UCD’s Emergency Response Plan, suggested at the meeting that the choice of whether to leave students in a classroom would be that of individual staff member involved, but remarked that it would be prudent for a lecturer to stay with their students, particularly if the theatre was equipped with a working computer or telephone.
It is understood that staff would be informed of an emergency situation through a combination of text messages, emails and phone calls. However, this system has been deemed unreliable and overly dependent on external networks which not be able to support the level of traffic required to spread the information quickly across campus.
The primary aim of UCD’s Emergency Response Plan is to “provide a framework for the co-ordination of the university’s response to any critical incidents.” The plan defines a critical incident as anything that “could cause a major disruption to the operation of the university” or “cause injury or loss of life to staff, students and visitors to the university”. The University Observer understands that any incident which could cause environmental damage will also be dealt with under the Emergency Response Plan.
Foreseeable incidents have been graded along a three-tier system ranging from smaller inconveniences such as burst pipes, to worst-case scenarios such as “a hostage situation involving multiple students”, with tailored strategies created for each.
It has also emerged that UCD is presently applying for planning permission to install a campus-wide siren system, which would be activated on the development of an emergency, providing instant notification to the UCD community of any emergency conditions.
Dr Conway expressed satisfaction with the progress the Emergency Response Plan within the campus, pointing to the relatively small impact of Swine Flu on campus as evidence of its success. However, Dr Conway was keen to emphasise that development of the plan could never be completed, as the plan be need to be continuously updated as new situations came to light.