RIC hosts ‘Violence on Campus,’ a higher education safety preparedness seminar

Speakers from Virginia Tech discussed what they’ve learned about emergency management and campus safety since the 2007 shootings. The event is part of a full-scale exercise that will continue this summer.

It can happen anywhere…and it has.

Emergency situations on college campuses have erupted around the country, threatening the safety of the community, and causing administrators to assess the current emergency procedures and implement new ones.

Rhode Island College, in partnership with RIEMA (Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency) and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) held a daylong event on March 10 in the Student Union Ballroom that focused on the importance of emergency management, threat assessment and safety measures on college campuses, and discussed leadership responsibility during a crisis, as told by the experts.

The seminar is part of a program called “Operation: Education Safe Haven” that will continue in the summer with a full-scale emergency management exercise, and involve federal, state and local entities.

RIC was named the second safest campus in New England and 35th in the nation, according to The Daily Beast news website, and is the first higher education institution in the state to undertake this kind of exercise.

“This takes the classroom outside of four walls and creates a lesson for others to follow,” said J. David Smith, executive director of RIEMA. He said that the initiative evolved from a “simple conversation about common interests and resources to what is being hailed as innovative and unique.”

Emergency personnel from Virginia Tech will lead discussions on threat assessment and how to build a culture of preparedness, in addition to sharing lessons learned since the 2007 shootings on campus, where, in two separate attacks approximately two hours apart, a perpetrator killed 32 people and wounded several others before committing suicide. The massacre is one of the deadliest shooting incidents by a single gunman, on or off a college campus.

Advisors from the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, FBI agents, national and local explosive specialists and intelligence analysts also conducted workshops on topics such as infrastructure protection, bomb threats, terrorist devices and emergency responses.

“The unexpected widespread flooding last spring in Rhode Island prompted my interest in testing RIC's emergency plan and equipment,” said RIC President Nancy Carriuolo. “Safety has been a theme of my presidency, but the flooding gave me a new sense of urgency.”

Seminar attendees included representatives from higher education institutions throughout New England.

“Our work with FEMA and RIEMA, both of which have been supportive and instructive, has led us to sponsoring the March seminar and a later emergency exercise in the summer,” said Carriuolo.

Carriuolo, along with members of her executive cabinet, has successfully completed an online FEMA course in emergency management in preparation for the March seminar and the June drill. She said that RIC, as the second safest campus in New England, views this emergency management exercise as a way to maintain that safety.

“The course results in certification in emergency management. Our intent is to coordinate successfully with the designated professional emergency managers during the simulated emergency, thereby becoming a smoothly functioning RIEMA and campus team,” she added.

Providing a safe environment for our campus community is one of the ways that RIC can support teaching and learning on campus, said Carriuolo.

Smith congratulated RIC for “assembling a world-class group of planners, speakers, technicians, administrators, and learners who will all benefit from this exercise.”

For more information, contact Jane Fusco, RIC director of news and public relations, at (401) 456-8468 or jfusco@ric.edu.