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University responds to criticism over emergency response

By Kristy Koehler, September 26 2019—

Questions arose about the University of Calgary’s ability to handle a crisis situation in the wake of a potential gun threat on campus during Clubs Week.

The large police presence on campus — coupled with no information provided by U of C’s emergency app — prompted a flurry of tweets by students and staff, indicating their dissatisfaction at the lack of communication. Reports from local news agencies that the school was on ‘lockdown’ did not help the panic and confusion.

Bob Maber, Director of Emergency Management, said that the inaccuracies in reporting “did not compromise the coordinated response from the Calgary Police Service and the University of Calgary. However, it did contribute to heightened anxiety and confusion on campus among some people.”

Maber also addressed the university’s response to the situation.

“The university utilizes several different communication channels in order to reach as many students, faculty and staff as possible,” Maber said in a statement. The university “issued a total of three messages via social media — our main UCalgary Twitter account. The first was a notice a short time after the incident was reported, the second provided an additional update and then a third message was issued when the incident ended. We also retweeted two Calgary Police Service tweets — acknowledgement of the situation and conclusion.”

Alertus, the U of C Emergency Desktop notification system, was utilized as well, but this system only notifies university-managed IT computers including computers in classrooms and computer labs.

Maber said that in addition to follow-up messaging posted via Alertus, a banner message on the main UCalgary webpage was used as well as an all-staff email and an all-student email.

The all-student email, sent by provost and vice-president academic Dru Marshall, acknowledged that the emergency app experienced technical issues and apologized for the lack of communication.

The technical difficulties addressed in Marshall’s email are being addressed, according to Maber.

“The university has partnered with a third-party software developer to address the technical issues experienced with the Emergency App and will conduct testing to ensure that it is working properly. We are working with the developer to finalize the timelines and the details of the test but this is a high priority for the institution,” he said.

The university, said Maber, is well-prepared to respond to an emergency on campus and has an effective emergency response plan in place. 

 “We coordinate simulated training exercises with emergency services to help improve our response and coordination with other organizations,” Maber said. “The most recent example of this occurred in June 2017, when we conducted a ‘shooter on-campus’ training exercise with 150 municipal responders and 200 campus volunteers. Furthermore, and on a regular basis, the Emergency Management Team conducts training with Campus First Responders including Campus Security, the Emergency Operations Group and Crisis Management Teams, and provides Personal Safety Awareness tips.”

The University of Calgary has adopted the Run, Hide, Fight approach in the event of an active shooter. Maber says the approach is used by many post-secondary institutions throughout North America and is detailed online. 

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