News & Features

Is It Really An Emergency...?
Published: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 4:53:27 PM

An emergency is a situation that poses an immediate risk to health, life, property, or environment. Most emergencies require urgent intervention to prevent a worsening of the situation. In some situations, mitigation may not be possible and educational institutions may only be able to offer palliative care for the aftermath. At Northern Caribbean University (NCU), the office of Occupational, Safety, and Health (OSH) has been tasked with being first responders to these emergencies and to train stakeholders to prevent, where possible the dangers from occurring or escalating.  

While some emergencies are self-evident (such as a natural disaster that threatens many lives), many smaller incidents require that an observer (or affected party) decide whether it qualifies as an emergency. The precise definition of an emergency, the agencies involved and the procedures used is usually set by the government, whose agency, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) are responsible for emergency planning and management.

Shaun Wellington, head of the Occupational Safety and Health at Northern Caribbean University shares his expertise in one of the training sessions to faculty and staff at the NCU's Mandeville campus 

NCU’s campuses continue to prepare for natural disasters especially during the Atlantic hurricane season which runs from June 30 to November 30 yearly. With its main campus precariously located in the hills of Mandeville, an area which has seen major damage to property in previous hurricanes, the proactive effort by the team of the Critical Incident Management and the head of the OSH have the University prepared.   

Shaun Wellington, head of the OSH, explained, “The challenges we face here at NCU are not unique. Locally we are prone to believe that we only prepare when an emergency is imminent, but this culture is changing and for that we are grateful. If each student and worker can effectively be a change agent, then sooner than later we will be more prepared for any emergency.” 

Institutions of higher education (IHEs) campuses often cover large geographic areas, and sometimes even resemble small towns with the full extent of services in their vicinity (i.e., medical centres, sports complexes, residential halls, businesses).

“The population on NCU’s campuses  changes from day to day, semester to semester, and year to year. IHE governance is also highly varied, complex, and often widely dispersed. Decentralized organizational structures and academic departments are located in different buildings and have differing decision-making methods,” Wellington added.

The retired New York Fire Department Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) cautioned, “The nature of higher education institutions, with faculty involvement in the governance process, is much different than the hierarchical structure of corporate entities or governmental agencies. Decision-making in such local environment can be slow, and hinder campus response to a crisis. The need for clear lines of authority and decision-making are all the more important at IHEs.”

The population served by IHEs is distinct, as well. Most students are over 18 years of age and therefore are considered adults capable of making decisions on their own. This can present challenges and opportunities.

Another characteristic of IHEs is that they do not operate under 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. typical business-hour schedules. NCU campus is alive and engaged with activity almost around the clock. From the opening of food service operations and recreation facilities in the early morning to evening activities and late night studying in the library, the campus is constantly in motion.

Jason Thomas, NCU alum and worker added, “Complacency is the order of the day and often we find ourselves in a state of panic whenever there is a hurricane, storm, flood, or fire. Lives and property are lost because most are reactive; we find all the reasons for not being able to prepare. Victory loves preparation, so don’t let the emergency take your scalp. Beat it to the punch and you might just save lives and property”

Karon-Jean Waugh, Chief Female Resident Advisor at one of the Hall of residence, lamented, “Many of our students take these emergency preparations for granted. We have regular fire drills and emergency talks but the residents of the halls see these presentations as a bother until an emergency strikes. Drills ought not to be taken for granted as we are not certain how catastrophic a disaster might be, so we need to always be prepared for all eventualities.”
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