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March 22, 2012

Campus emergencies: Pitt police are ready, are you?

Pitt police investigate the second Cathedral of Learning bomb threat in six days March 19.

Pitt police investigate the second Cathedral of Learning bomb threat in six days March 19.

While the Pitt police have trained for emergencies such as the March 8 fatal shooting at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic (WPIC) and the more recent bomb threats at the Cathedral of Learning,  members of the University community have been questioning how they should respond in such situations.

There are steps faculty, staff and students can take and many already have taken what administrators say is the key one: Sign up for Pitt’s Emergency Notification System (ENS).

ENS has seen a big spike in subscribers in the two weeks since the WPIC shooting, probably as a result of the emergency incidents, said Jinx Walton, chief information officer and director of Computing Services. In the last two weeks, an additional 3,054 people from the Pittsburgh campus signed up, bringing the total to 36,800, or almost 90 percent of Pittsburgh campus staff, faculty and students.

During the recent emergencies, the system has performed well, Pitt officials said, sending within approximately 20 minutes some 100,000 messages to text, cell phone and/or email contacts per emergency announcement.

But having ENS doesn’t cover all the safety bases, officials said. Employees and students should familiarize themselves with general and building-specific emergency response guidelines, according to  Jay Frerotte, director of Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S).

Emergency procedures for all Pitt campuses are posted online at Links to preparedness and other safety information also is available on the Pitt police web site at

Copies of Pitt’s general emergency response guidelines are available in paper form in each responsibility center. Copies can be obtained from EHS by calling 412/624-9505.

According to Frerotte, Pitt has a number of communication mechanisms in place to alert employees to emergency situations, in addition to the ENS system.

Fire alarms may be the most familiar emergency warning. Frerotte noted that a building’s fire alarm system doubles as an evacuation warning for all emergencies, not just fires. People should always evacuate when that alarm goes off and wait for emergency personnel to clear them for re-entry, he said.

Fire alarm systems also have a microphone from which emergency personnel can make announcements building-wide or in targeted areas within campus buildings, Frerotte said.

“In addition, individuals who are not capable of complying with evacuation plans as written for their building (e.g., those with special needs, medical restrictions or recognized disability) should self-identify to EH&S at 412/624-9505 for development of an individualized evacuation plan,” Frerotte said. “These plans are shared with University police and other emergency responders, so that the individual can be safely sheltered in emergency scenarios until assistance is provided in evacuation,” he added.

Each Pitt building has a designated short-term and long-term evacuation destination site.

“The sites are listed in the Pitt emergency response guidelines  that are available within each responsibility center and online. The evacuation sites are utilized as needed in situations where evacuated occupants would need to be congregated, or sheltered from weather or harm,” which was not the case for the Cathedral of Learning evacuations, Frerotte said. “During the recent evacuations of the Cathedral of Learning, the short-term evacuation site of Alumni Hall was not implemented. In both recent evacuations, Cathedral of Learning occupants acted appropriately: They evacuated in a quick and orderly fashion, they moved away from the building and they remained away from the building until the ‘all clear’ was given,” he said.

Pitt also can lock most Pittsburgh campus buildings remotely from the University Public Safety Building, should the need to keep people from entering a building be necessary, as was the case during the March 8 WPIC shooting.

In addition to the established University safety procedures, the Staff Association Council (SAC) hopes to spread the word to Pitt staff about on-campus safety measures.

SAC President Deborah Walker said, “SAC is always concerned about the safety and security of our staff and others in the community.”

She said SAC would continue to work with campus police through Officer Ron Bennett, the Pitt police department’s community relations officer, who is a member of SAC’s safety and security committee. Walker added that SAC plans to have Bennett make a safety presentation at a future meeting.

She also encouraged individual units to contact Bennett if they would like to schedule a crime prevention presentation at 4-4040 or

—Peter Hart & Kimberly K. Barlow

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