In August, Yale simulated the unthinkable: a major shooting on campus.
About 100 people, including administrators, law enforcement, student actors and outside experts, gathered in the Yale Divinity School to participate in the seven-and-a-half hour simulation, meant to assess Yale’s ability to activate reception and family assistance centers in the case of a mass-casualty event. Senior Advisor to the President Martha Highsmith said previous iterations of the annual simulation have focused on a variety of scenarios — including the outbreak of a flu pandemic — which would threaten the safety of Yale’s campus.
“We hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” Highsmith said. “I don’t go around assuming horrible things will happen, but if they do, we will be ready to respond.”
Director of Emergency Management Maria Bouffard said the August exercise took about a year to plan. The first stage involved briefing participants about the fictional incident and assigning them their roles, after which staged reception and family treatment assistance centers were tested for readiness. Highsmith added that the challenge of supporting families during a crisis became clear during the December 2012 Sandy Hook Massacre that took 26 lives.
Yale’s risk manager Marjorie Lemmon said that in addition to preparing the emergency centers, the simulation also helped test Yale’s ability to credential a large number of people in a short period of time. During a crisis situation, people must be easily identifiable and restricted areas must remain accessible only to certain individuals, she added.
Highsmith said that over the past years, the Office of Emergency Management has held emergency preparedness training sessions for various offices and student groups upon request and that the office plans to expand its training sessions to reach more of the Yale community. These meetings would concern the case of an active shooter, she said, and will hopefully be offered later this fall. Bouffard said such sessions increase awareness and help students understand what they can and should do in crisis situations, adding that recent shootings on college campuses and in public venues make this type of training all the more important.
In addition to the annual simulation and expanded training sessions, the OEM also organizes monthly meetings with roughly 60 people from major offices on campus — including security, facilities and human resources — as well as from New Haven more broadly.
Highsmith said one of the most critical components of the monthly meeting is giving Yale administrators the chance to interact with their counterparts in the city and region.
“The worst thing in the world is to meet your counterpart in the city at the site of an emergency,” she said. “You want to have met and worked with that person long before anything like that happens.”
Bouffard said students can acquire more information about emergency management from the OEM’s website. Still, six students interviewed — all of whom expressed universal support for the preparedness of emergency operations — said they would prefer increased communication and transparency.
Samuel Lee ’16 said that rather than receive formal training, he would prefer to be made more aware of available information on how to respond to a crisis on campus.
“I do not recall receiving emails about this, so the most fundamental improvement would be more accessible and noticeable information about what to do and what numbers to call,” he said.
Alejandra Campos ’19 said the OEM seems exceptionally well-prepared compared to her high school. Simulating a real life event is especially important because panic often overtakes individuals during times of crisis, she said. Campos added that in light of recent shootings across the country, it is important that more students be trained in emergency preparedness.