Between recent fires, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis and nuclear meltdowns, if I did not know any better, I would guess a zombie apocalypse is on the horizon. Unexpected emergencies occur throughout the world on a daily basis, and preparations should be taken to minimize their damage. The never-gonna-happen-to-me mentality so many college students share is detrimental to their own safety and the safety of others. Unexpected catastrophes also tend to lead to extreme financial consequences. Preparing for adversity ahead of time is an investment well worth the long-term benefits.
In the wake of a disaster, media sources often try their hardest to find someone or something to point a finger at. While government officials, and in our case university administrators, do have a responsibility to protect their constituents, first and foremost it is the individual’s job to protect his or her self.
Spokane has been caught in a month-long spree of fires while the Pullman Fire Department has already handled at least two since the return of students. Recent scorching temperatures put us at even greater risk for accidental fires. Earthquakes in Virginia and California have the nation anxiously debating nuclear stability while at the time of this writing, Hurricane Irene has already taken 43 lives from North Carolina to Maine.
We all had drills in elementary and junior high school, and dorm hall residents tend to become familiar during the course of the year with routine late night microwave-explosion-induced evacuations, but students, administration and government must all increase their use of proactive plans to minimize emergency situations.
Having your house or apartment inspected to ensure it is structurally sound, testing your smoke alarms regularly, signing up to receive WSU emergency alerts on your cell phone or e-mail, purchasing a first aid kit and emergency provisions for your house and/or car, knowing evacuation routes for the buildings you spend the most time in and keeping track of important documents like health insurance, car insurance or social security cards — these are all common responsibilities of mature, engaged citizens. To assume that a higher entity like the school administration or the state or federal government will always protect you from danger, physically and financially, is naïve.
Providing information is the primary responsibility of both the university and government, both pre-emptively and in a timely nature once an incident occurs. Both institutions must inform citizens and students of the safest area locations ahead of time — by this I mean, in the event of a full campus or full city evacuation, where will everyone be directed to? Timing is crucial when chaos strikes — getting out quickly and efficiently requires citizens to be aware of plans beforehand.
In addition, the university is required by law to provide timely warnings to students of certain situations that pose a threat like fires, blizzards and patterns of crime. However, these warnings occur infrequently and are essentially the only information promoted to students for dealing with emergencies. In addition to this ALERTS system, WSU should be advising students regularly on the types of emergencies they should be prepared for. For example, a pattern of fires has already begun in Pullman yet students are still barbequing, burning things on their lawns and dancing with flaming hula-hoops because the hazard has not been emphasized. In addition, while we are not in a high-risk area for earthquakes and floods, they absolutely can happen unexpectedly, and students should be briefed annually on the associated campus procedures. These are all listed in the Campus Safety Plan, but it is important that the university prepare students for situations that are more likely to occur at a given time – like fires in the summer and blizzards or floods in the winter.
In Pullman, one of our most frequent, likely emergency situations is an extreme blizzard. New freshmen this year who are unaccustomed to Pullman winters — I know you are enjoying this awesome heat wave now, but it will be snowing by October — must prepare themselves for traveling in the snow by purchasing appropriate winter gear like chains for your car, an ice scraper, gloves and jackets. Administrators at WSU will also need to give winter safety 200 percent this year. During the past two years, declining funds have resulted in inexcusably meager snow management. That cannot be the case this year with such an increase in enrollment and campus traffic.
The truth of the matter is disasters happen and safety plans are never going to work out perfectly, but accepting the responsibility of proactive planning will definitely lessen the blow.