The time is 8:45 a.m. on a Monday at the Southern State Community College Fayette campus on U.S. 62 in Washington C.H. The president of the campus, Dr. Kevin Boys, is out of state at a conference. It’s a nice day with heavy traffic on U.S. 62 due to a large sale happening at Walmart and a large farm auction on the Fayette County Fairgrounds.
On campus, there is an outside group using the college’s community room, along with job interviews happening inside the library. Suddenly, a 28-year-old male enters the college lobby area and heads down the hallway. A staff member at the door recognizes the man as the ex-husband of a 27-year-old Southern State student, who had previously provided a copy of a restraining and protective order, along with a photo of the ex-husband, that was filed last month in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas.
Then what happens? How do school officials, faculty and staff respond to such a scenario, and subsequently, how do local emergency responders react?
Although the above scenario was only part of a tabletop, mock disaster exercise held Wednesday morning at the Southern State Fayette campus, this type of situation can become all too real in today’s society, said Gary Heaton, the security and emergency response coordinator for all of Southern State.
The mock scenario’s end result, as designed by Heaton, were some casualties and injured students.
Heaton, Dr. Boys and other Southern State faculty met with several local responders Wednesday morning to coordinate what the response would be in such a situation.
Throughout the exercise, the type of questions Heaton would ask were: What are the roles of campus security and campus employees as this happens? What is the response of the Washington Police Department, Fayette County Sheriff’s Office and other first responders? What type of notifications go out? Who informs those on campus what to do in that scenario? How many additional responders are needed for control of roads, nearby businesses, the fairgrounds, etc.? Who handles incoming calls from concerned citizens and members of the media?
“We want to get out ahead of the story before the story gets out in front of us in this scenario,” Heaton said. “News travels fast in Fayette County no matter where you’re at in the county. We want to get out ahead of that story and get out as many facts as we can at the time to stop all of the rumors.”
As a teaching method, Heaton also organized a staged press conference with Southern State faculty, first responders and members of the local media. A statement was read to the press, followed by questions for those at the podium.
All involved in Wednesday’s exercise agreed that it was great preparation for what could happen in a similar scenario.
“I felt like it was incredibly productive,” said Melissa Havens, Fayette County Emergency Management Agency and Local Emergency Planning Committee director. “I feel like Southern State has someone in place in Gary who is very impressive to me. He’s got a great background and experience to be in charge of the security and safety of this campus. He’s doing a fantastic job.”
Havens added that she loves the interaction between the school and emergency responders.
“Like with the staged press conference, to me that’s invaluable to see how that works and for the faculty to be a part of that and see how it works,” she said. “The faculty needs to understand that they’re not on their own through any of this. We’re here to help and they don’t have to take it all on themselves. It’s a group effort.”
Dr. Boys said these tabletop exercises have become common practices at all four Southern State campuses.
“It’s been a phenomenal opportunity for us to get together with our emergency responders and hear things from their perspective so that we can refine our planning,” Boys said. “And not just the planning, but actually going through a scenario and talking about different things that could possibly happen. You learn something from every instance, and sadly, these types of situations are way too frequent in reality. But these are the kind of people I want being our first responders because they’re obviously skilled and committed to safety first.”
Southern State has four campus locations: the Fayette campus, the central campus in Hillsboro, the Brown County campus in Mt. Orab and the north campus in Wilmington. The college serves Fayette, Highland, Clinton, Adams and Brown counties.