After the Evacuation, Time for Evaluation
Editors Note: this story has been edited to correct the name of the person who helped evacuate the Communications buildings. His name is Jason Eitelbach, not Jason Aughenbaugh.
UT at Austin resumes classes today following a bomb threat Friday that caused the evacuation of all campus buildings. The University of Texas, like most schools, has detailed emergency plans, which might now get updated.
The first few minutes during the evacuation were a bit chaotic. It was controlled chaos, though. People moved quickly and smoothly. But other than being told to “get as far from buildings as possible,” there was no clear direction where to go. And almost as soon as the evacuation was called, communications ground to a halt as people used the phone system to make calls, send texts, tweet and Facebook their whereabouts.
“They didn’t give any additional information out with the alarm,” said Jason Eitelbach, who helped evacuate the Communication College buildings. “It’s so strange. It seems a little bit more chaotic than when they had the shooting incident, which I actually thought went absolutely perfectly.”
Rhonda Weldon, UT’s communications director, says there shouldn’t be any confusion when executing emergency management plans. All of them are online. They were crafted in 2001 and reviewed yearly, and were adapted again after the shooting on campus in 2010.
“There’s always a leading voice,” Weldon said. “At this point in time, with our situation, the leading message was to get people out of the buildings.”
At a news conference after the buildings were cleared, UT President William Powers said each emergency reshapes the plans.
“When we had the shooter on the campus: sirens, text messages, we had voice messages over the sirens, and we got reports back the reverberation and the audio unclarity of that can create confusion,” Powers said. “So we used the sirens this time to make warning and then made our text messages.”
It’s important to remember that the nature of emergency response, in dealing with crowds like the thousands at UT, is that when the alarm sounds for real, there will be some chaos, said Texas State University police Capt. Rickey Lattie.
“We provide the best emergency service we can, but ultimately the first and most important person protecting you is yourself,” Lattie said. “You do have to prepare yourself to respond if you are caught in an emergency situation and think about what you are going to do and how you are going to evacuate — where you are going to go to be safe.”
UT is likely to quickly begin evaluating its response campuswide.
“We evaluate and debrief the response on every one of these incidences, and we always learn things where we can be clearer in the future,” Powers said.