Deep within the internal organs of Ryerson’s Integrated Risk Management (IRM) website lies a 13-page PDF called the “Yellow Book,” which holds the answers to surviving campus crises. Whether it’s a rogue gunman, natural disaster, or bomb threat, the Yellow Book is the vital rubric to security incidents at Ryerson. And you are responsible for knowing this, apparently.
“Have you read the Yellow Book?” asked Julia Lewis, Director of IRM, formerly Ryerson security, numerous times in an interview. “The real starting point for us is expectations. So there is an expectation for us, that, as a community member, you have read the Yellow Book.”
Yet, when numerous students were asked if they knew about this Yellow Book, these were some of their responses: “Is it like the ‘Bluebook?’” “Is it a novel?” “Is it something from the Wizard of Oz?” After an informal survey of over 100 students and faculty members on Friday, The Ryersonian found that not one Ryerson community member knew what the Yellow Book is.
If the Ryerson campus had a shooter or was in a “lockdown” like the University of Ottawa (UO) was last Wednesday, according to IRM, it’s the responsibility of each person in this community to have read this Yellow Book and to know what to do.
Lawrence Robinson, associate director of IRM, said the community should, “Familiarize themselves with what’s in the document, familiarize with nearest exits, and make the best decision they can make with the information they have.”
This is what security refers to as a “shared responsibility.” But if there were a serious incident, one as unexpected as the Ottawa shooting, the danger may be in not knowing who would be expected to make which move.
The day of the Ottawa shooting, numerous locations in Toronto heightened their security. But Ryerson did not make any announcements to remind Ryerson community members of this informative Yellow Book or any guidelines for a “lockdown” circumstance.
“We met and asked the question of whether or not there should be anything done and I know that security was aware of it, but I don’t believe anything particular was done at all,” said Ryerson president Sheldon Levy.
According to Ryerson security, however, they have done a “fair bit” of raising awareness of the Yellow Book.
“As you know, it’s on the website (and) we have posters in classrooms that talk about the Yellow Book,” Lewis said. “We have fire drills, which bring attention to the fact that there are emergency procedures on campus.”
Yet, even professors who were asked if they had read the Yellow Book said they did not know what it was. One faculty member, a Ryerson employee of 20 years, never heard of it before.
“If it was something brought to my attention in the first weeks of the semester, it would be something to bring to the attention in the beginning of classes,” said Lisa Taylor, who has been in the journalism faculty for five years. “But no, I have not heard of this book before.”
First-year science student Nick Jamkhou said that he would “have no idea” what to do in a crisis situation at Ryerson, noting that his orientation on security measures never broached the topic of the Yellow Book.
“I would listen to whoever was in charge,” Jamkhou said. “And I’d expect them to tell me what to do.”
A key indicator that a Ryerson community member has not read the Yellow Book is if they use the term lockdown.”If Ryerson were faced with a close proximity shooting, it would, instead, be referred to as an “active threat” situation. This is because there is often an “elementary school” kind of impression of a lockdown. IRM says they want to use terms with “cohesive meanings.”
Yet this typical lockdown was exactly what Timothy Lethbridge, UO professor of software engineering and computer science, expected when he was in charge of more than 70 students during the Ottawa shootings. UO closed its doors, cancelled exams and did not lift the lockdown for close to seven hours. The most serious issue for Lethbridge that day was not the inside of his classroom. It was what he could see on the outside.
“There was no security around and there are these strict guidelines to turn off lights, stay under desks, but no one was doing that,” Lethbridge explained. “People were told not to leave but said, ‘well, the heck with it,’ because no security (was) outside and people were walking around.”
Lethbridge said, “(The shooting) was a tragedy beyond understanding, but for universities, big institutions and places with large geographic area, there have been lots of lessons learned to be put into place. Concrete lessons on what to do, what not to do.”
In an email to The Ryersonian, the UO stated that, “As we always do after any incident, we will do a thorough assessment of our procedures and look at ways to make improvements.”
The issue the UO faced with its campus grounds, where people were roaming freely outside, possibly unaware that there was a threat of a person with a gun, could happen on Ryerson’s campus, security said.
“If people have not read the Yellow Book, or if they have read it and chose not to follow advice that is in there, you could see a scene like that,” Robinson said.
But when asked what a step-by step process would be if Ryerson experienced a day like the Ottawa shooting, Robinson refused to provide an answer.
“Now going back to the Yellow Book…,” Robinson continued. “The Yellow Book has to put some responsibility on individuals to make the best decisions for where they are and the circumstance they are faced with, because there is no way we can rack out a plan that is going to address the needs of 30-40,000 people in different locations.”
IRM said that they are in the process of looking at what happened in Ottawa and what they can draw from it, but would not make any further comments.
“I think part of the confusion is that sometimes the individual may know what their role is, but may not know what to expect from our security and emergency services,” Lewis said. “If you dont have an expectation, then you have a diversity of responses from community members.”