Safety Plan finally underway

Originally published May 2012 in The Southwestern Sun

For the first time in a decade Southwestern College may soon have an updated emergency preparedness plan.

A District Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) was developed with the help of consultant Carolyn J. Harshman and the SWC Safety Committee. It was presented it to the governing board and Superintendent Dr. Melinda Nish this month.

It seeks to protect the safety of those on SWC’s main campus, centers in National City, Otay Mesa, San Ysidro and Coronado. Each location will also have its own plan that provides for coordinated responses with local, state and federal agencies in the event of an incident or emergency.

Robert Sanchez, the acting chief of police and chair of the Safety Committee, said a completely new EOP had to be drafted because the existing plan one was obsolete.

“The plan was not a comprehensive plan covering natural and manmade disasters. [It] only covered earthquakes, fire and floods,” he said. “No one was ever trained in the plan or in the Incident Command System (ICS). It was so outdated there was no way to just plug in state and federal mandates. The old plan did not even address the existence of higher education centers.”

Gary Creason, department chair of administration of justice and former SWC police chief, said the old plan was viable for SWC and its satellite campuses during his years of service from 2000 to 2004. At the time there were only centers in San Ysidro and National City, but Creason said they were covered under the plan.

“I had spoken to the staff there,” Creason said. “There were independent procedures for both.”

Creason had also conducted two campus-wide evacuation drills at SWC under the previous plan in 2003, one for students and faculty during a day session, and another for those in night classes. It was only during Chartier’s five-year term as the police chief that the drills were discontinued, said Creason.

“There was no movement made to keep the campus evacuation drills, which in my opinion jeopardized the safety of the campus,” he said.

Drills may return under the newly-drafted EOP, which calls for all staff to be assigned to participate in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), Command Team or Field Response Department. Orientation, classes or training could be required.

Training essential personnel will take several months, said Sanchez. It is tentatively scheduled to begin this summer and continue into the fall.

SWC’s new plan encourages students in sports teams, clubs and other student organizations to act as leaders for their peers in first aid, disaster preparedness and response.

Some members of the Associated Student Organization expressed approval.

Connie Ajero, 21, said she was not aware that the safety plan called for student leadership, but she supported the idea. Bianca Jackson, 19, another ASO representative, agreed,

“It’s more work, but it would be worth it,” she said. “After all, the safety of campus and students comes first.”

John Vincent de Jesus, 20, said he did not think student leadership would be significant in the overall procedure.

“[Student organizations] don’t really have big enough of a presence on campus,” he said. “It’s a good suggestion, but not likely to make a difference because a lot of clubs are small or they probably wouldn’t all be on campus at the time of an emergency anyway.”

Sanchez said campus police will resume an earlier effort to purchase rifles now that an emergency plan is in progress. Rifles are not mentioned in the draft EOP and Sanchez said that they are an operational issue under the college police department.

“We are the last law enforcement entity, including city, county, state, university, college and school police departments, to not have them as a tool for its police officers,” he said.