UPDATE: Universities differ on emergency procedures

Yellow Book

(Dasha Zolota, Ryersonian Staff)

An investigation by The Ryersonian last week revealed that very few students and faculty members know about Ryerson security’s “Yellow Book,” an allegedly vital document outlining security protocols for emergency situations.

Even though Ryerson security said it has done a “fair bit” of communication on this vital document, The Ryersonian asked: what are some of the ways important information can effectively reach massive groups of people? And what are other universities doing to prepare for crisis situations?

All universities have some version of an emergency preparedness plan or crisis management guide, but some post-secondary institutions have gone further to market these plans.

The University of British Columbia (UBC) seems to have the most extensive marketing scheme, with its own “emergency lockdown video” that asks students if they know what to do in the event of a lockdown.

At one point in the video, it states: “Recent events with North American universities make preparing for lockdown procedures crucial.”

UBC also has a video and website called ShakeOutBC, guiding students on what to do in an earthquake, with scheduled drills called “DROP, COVER and HOLD ON.” UBC’s numerous documents are easily accessible, with titles like: Top Ten Emergency Tips for Students.

The University of Ottawa has an extensive website called “Are you ready?” The site outlines specific protocols for lockdowns and evacuations, and has a plethora of images and questions like, “Do you know what to do in emergencies?”

The site is intended for the use of students, faculty and staff. Security alerts through emails are similar to Ryerson’s, but UO students and staff are expected to create their own personal profile and provide contact information.

Langara College also has a lockdown procedures video for students and faculty to watch, while Georgian College lets students suscribe to text alerts for emergency situations.

Many other universities, including York University, Lakehead University, University of Waterloo, Nipissing University, University of Winnipeg, OCAD University, and Brock University, use the term “lockdown” for emergency situations, though Ryerson does not.

At Ryerson, the terminology used in emergency situations includes “active threat” or “shelter in-place.”

Michael Forbes, Ryerson’s communications expert, said that in a real crisis situation there are a number of immediate communication avenues Ryerson would use.

When there was a snowstorm 18 months ago, Ryerson posted an immediate update on the Ryerson website, pushed it through Twitter, and Facebook and added an automated message on the phone line.

“One thing you have to do is choose multiple channels multiple times,” says Forbes.

When there was a water main break on Gerrard Street in 2013, even groups like Ryerson athletics were pushing the information out on Facebook. Once information began to spread about the break on Twitter, it quickly went viral. “It was incredible to watch, like watching a matrix as the tweets go by,” says Forbes.

Twitter is arguably the most powerful tool to spread information online. Yet, studies suggest that the average lifespan of a tweet can be as little as eight minutes before it gets buried.

A number of studies also agree that word of mouth is still the most powerful communication force in the marketplace.

“You don’t have to reach all 30,000 people,” Forbes added. “You just have to get the message out in as many ways as you can.”

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