Wake Forest is often deemed to be in its own little bubble, but that bubble isn’t an invincible forcefield.The problems of the external world can still infiltrate the operations of campus at any moment.
Just like any other university in the nation, Wake Forest is subject to external crisis. Crisis appears on college campuses in a variety of forms. Snowstorms, suicides, power outages, student deaths and unauthorized armed intruders are just a few items on this long list.
However, Wake Forest has a crisis management team (CMT), which works 24 hours a day, seven days a week in order to manage when a situation punctures the bubble.
“The crisis management team is here in order to plan for, respond to and recover from emergencies,” said August Vernon, Wake Forest’s emergency service manager. “This diverse group is comprised of representatives from every entity across campus that come together to decide the best way to manage the crises that arise on campus.”
In light of the snowstorm cancelling classes and the collision involving a campus shuttle and student-driven car that caught on fire, Wake Forest has faced some situations in just these past few weeks that have caused different areas of the CMT to mobilize.
The CMT is comprised of 60 members who are all representatives of a specialized aspect of campus — whether it be Z. Smith Reynolds Library or the Office of Communication and External Relations or Residence Life and Housing, etc. Depending on the situation, different members of the team — who are representatives of the involved area on campus — will assemble to decide the best way to manage the issue.
“It’s a cheesy analogy, but think of it as a tool box,” Vernon said. “You pull out the tools that you need at the time. It doesn’t mean that every day we have to activate all of the members, but if something happens, then we pull different resources.”
For individuals like Vernon, emergency management is the main concern. But for most of the members of the team, crisis management is just an aspect of their job description.
“There’s no ten people sitting in a room just waiting for something to happen,” Vernon said. “Everyone is engaged and busy all the time in the other aspects of their jobs and then mobilize when needed.”
One of the areas of the CMT is the Office of Communications and External Relations, who work to alert students, faculty and staff when these emergencies and crises occur on campus.
“We alert people because we want to be as transparent as possible,” said Kevin Cox, Director of Crisis Communications and Community Relations. “We want to let everyone know in a reasonable amount of time that there was something that threatened the security and safety of campus. Also, maybe someone was a witness or saw something in relation to the situation and can provide us with more details, so we can address it in a better manner.”
The method of relaying the message can vary depending on the situation. The Wake Alert website, Wake Ready website, banners on the university’s homepage, voicemails left on faculty and staff telephones and emails sent out to students are all ways the Office of Communication and External Relations communicates situations to students.
“The most important thing we do in a crisis is keeping the WakeAlert website populated with information,” Cox said. “We put up initial content on the site and then keep updating it. Even though we will use other means to convey the message, we really encourage people to keep checking that website to receive the most updated information.”
Depending on the situation, different means will be used to convey the message in the most appropriate way, according to Cox.
“While we have something of a general plan for our internal records that proposes what methods we will use for certain methods, there is some quick judgment for each situation that needs to be made,” Cox said. “We base the response and the manner in which we get the message out to campus based on the situation and circumstances.”
If a situation were to be classified as an “imminent threat” to the people, property or operations of this campus, the WFUPD would be the one who would employ certain methods to alert campus. The communication department would then follow up their alerts with the means they have to keep people informed.
“WFUPD will use text alert if it is this top level of threat,” Cox said. “Undergraduates are required to subscribe to it, and graduate and faculty and staff are encouraged to subscribe to it. In order to quickly get out the immediate announcement, WFUPD also have the means to activate the outdoor sirens, indoor building sirens, and use the cable alert system which puts a message on televisions that are hooked up to the university cable.”
All of these different groups under the umbrella of the CMT operate in order to protect the security of campus.
“Wake forest is a community where there is considerable collaboration between those who work here,” Cox said. “I think the Crisis Management team is a great example of the efficient collaboration of many departments.”
According to Vernon, this constant collaboration is essential for the operations of the CMT. Every day is different and crisis does not have to occur in order for the CMT to be mobilized. The planning of events like football games, President’s ball, graduation and the Confederate Flag panel debate all require a lot of resources from the CMT.
“A lot of this is behind the scenes and never seen,” Vernon said. “And that’s a good thing.”