Staff Editorial: Is USF Ready for the Big One?

The Foghorn staff weighs in on emergency protocol on campus.

After news broke last Monday night that an explosion had occurred on the UC Berkeley campus following a copper wire theft from the university’s underground electrical network, a question arose among the Foghorn staff members: what would happen if something similar happened at USF?

Just a month and a half since the beginning of the fall term, and there has already been four campus alarm systems that have gone off — two in the University Center and two in Phelan Hall. Both alarms prompted full student and faculty evacuations from both sites. Although all four instances proved to be false alarms, and no emergency situation was listed as cause, the pertinent issue at hand is the manner in which such emergency and evacuation protocols are handled.

In the 2012 Annual Fire and Security Report issued by the university, in conjunction with the Department of Public Safety on Oct. 1. 2013, there is mention that students can access both the Public Safety and the Fogcutter websites in order to learn more about what to do in the case of an emergency or an evacuation.

However, the problem is that students rarely realize that these resources are available to them. Even in dorm rooms, there are placards placed on each door with emergency evacuation procedures, but evidenced by the delayed reactions of students during the previous false evacuations, it is important to raise doubt as to whether to not students actually pay attention to them. The university has made information available, but this does not necessarily prompt a student to think about an appropriate course of action in an emergency or evacuation event. Also, the question has been raised as to why there have been so many false alarms. In the case of a real event, this increases the chance that students will not treat the alarm as serious.

Earlier this year in April, USF was chosen to take part in the Department of Homeland Security’s Campus Resilience Enhancement System (CaRES) along with six other universities across the nation. In this pilot program, the government agency plans to work with USF and the other schools to better train and inform university faculty on how to more effectively communicate information that pertains to emergency and evacuation procedures not only to students, but to the entire university community.

This is vital for a university that lies in the heart of San Francisco; a large, urban city that could face many instances of crime and disaster. The most threatening instsance being a possible earthquake as the city lies atop the Hayward Fault, and between the San Andreas Fault and the offshore Cascadia Subduction Zone — whose last quake sparked a deadly tsunami in Japan and drowned parts of the Northwestern U.S.

The key to developing a more comprehensive system may be the missing link between knowledge and understanding: communication. There is no reason to question if the university has the knowledge to handle disastrous situations, but without a proper mode of clear communication, students and faculty may not know how to react in the case of an emergency or evacuation.

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