In assessing emergency preparedness issues, CSUN officials take an “all hazards” approach.
Hazards – disasters in the case of the 1994 earthquake – range from the familiar to that of the prospect of a yet unseen on-campus terrorist event. Despite 9/11’s fifth anniversary, an act of terror seems the unlikely culprit.
“What are the chances of a terrorist wanting to bomb a campus vs. something like the Golden Gate Bridge or Disneyland?” asked CSUN student Roz Azima, a film major who said he would bet his money on a natural disaster first. Even though Azima has book-marked the thought of a possible terrorist event in the back of his mind, he said he’s confident in the U.S. government’s ability to take care of its people.
And as one of many experts in emergency preparedness, CSUN coordinator Kit Espinosa stresses the importance of preparing folks as a preventative means of taking care of them – faculty, staff and students – for the worst.
“You can’t reach out to someone else if you’re not prepared,” she said, referring to her emergency preparedness workshops. “I help people get up to speed so they can take care of themselves and then come back and take care of the organization.”
CSUN’s police chief, Anne Glavin, emphasized the readiness aspect. “History and what’s current helps us to make good decisions by putting an emphasis on preparation,” she said. Glavin’s public safety craft includes managing the campus’s Emergency Operations Organization.
“We go and convene (in the event of a potential emergency) and determine if we need to activate our emergency activation center crisis action team,” she said referring to her team’s Physical Plant Management building meeting spot. Inside one room at PPM, duties are quickly assigned to a web of safety employees. Teams specializing in operations, planning, logistics and finance all work together in accordance with the California State Emergency Management System (SEMS), which according to Glavin, is a system that unites all CSUs in how they respond to various levels of emergency situations.
The overall mission of this system is the preservation of life and safety. The safety of campus buildings and overall infrastructure is also a priority in order to re-establish academic programs, according to Benjamin Elisondo, manager of operations, safety and training for PPM. Since the 1994 earthquake, this system has been further refined.
“We have a better understanding of SEMS,” Elisondo said, referring to the act of “efficiently pulling groups in order to meet and discuss what the needs are and how to better facilitate their jobs.”
And with all of this communication and coordination, Glavin spoke to the difficulty of the emergency preparedness task. “An enormous amount of effort and a lot of training goes on in working with colleges in order to develop emergency action plans,” she said.
Tom Brown, director of PPM, touted Northridge as a learned campus. “Subsequent to the 1994 quake, this campus is one of the safest in the country,” he said. “From a physical perspective, extraordinary seismic upgrades and fire life safety systems have been improved.”
Learned or not, social science sophomore Lavelle Roberts said he is still skeptical that he is truly safe. “You never know when it’s gonna hit,” he said.
Despite CSUN’s recent crumbled past, Roberts thinks terrorism might be more of a legitimate threat. “I think right now a terrorist threat is more likely than a natural disaster. People say they’re preparing for a terrorist attack. I don’t think there’s any way to be fully prepared. You can be ready, but not prepared,” said Roberts.
Psychology major Nikki Lampson sees the prospect of a natural disaster as “more likely” than on-campus terrorism. Yet she remains wary when it comes to the concept of terror.
“I don’t have any concrete facts about terrorist concerns,” she said. Lampson, a junior, added that without the proper facts, she had a hard time offering up an opinion.
“I think we’re kept in the dark about a lot of things, and by the time they get to us, they’ve been filtered too many times,” she said.
Probabilities aside, the prospect of a disaster always looms. And whether that disaster comes in the form of a natural event or a terrorist act, university officials are stressing preparedness.