Staff in the Department of Emergency Services for 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, eminent danger.”
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.
Shane Stovall is the WCU director of emergency services and 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 the satellite facilities in Cherokee and at Biltmore Park in Asheville, and at Highlands Biological Station. The department has three components: an emergency communications center; public safety technologies; and emergency management, which includes planning, training and exercises. Communications is vital within each. Department personnel partner with WCU Police Departtment, campus Emergency Medical Services and various other campus departments and agencies to create a culture of preparedness across all campuses.
“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.
“To promote a safe environment, the department has some specific techniques to use, like the WCU Alerts, the campus siren system, emergency blue light phones around campus and issuing warnings through online notifications,” he said.
WCU’s Emergency Communications Center receives and processes more than 20,000 calls a year. There are more than 400 cameras monitoring the Cullowhee campus, with additional camera projects scheduled to enhance campus safety. The center relocated to the ground floor of the H.F. Robinson Building last fall.
“We will have 38 emergency blue light phones across campus by the fall semester,” said Thomas Hooks, the WCU telecommunications center manager. “WCU is the first (and so far only) of the 17 universities in the University of North Carolina system to be emergency medical dispatch certified. We work closely with campus police, local law enforcement, fire and rescue and EMS. For a university, the level of operations and professionalism is unparalleled.”
Along with the campus Police Department, the WCU Department of Emergency Services has hosted “Whee Safe,” a series of brown bag discussions to provide faculty, staff and students with information on a variety of personal and community public safety topics.
Future awareness and outreach are planned, Stovall said. “Safety is an ongoing concern, which takes an effort from everyone, coordinated with regular training and drills, so that students, faculty, staff, visitors and neighbors in surrounding communities can be as safe as possible.”
By Geoff Cantrell