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Emergency Plans

After three years of reviewing, revamping and establishing campus policies and procedures, St. Olaf Public Safety presented its updated protocol for emergency operations and incident response. Director of Public Safety Fred Behr offered a half-hour program at several different times on several days of the week “in an effort to reach as many community members as possible.”

Behr’s presentation was informative, thorough and much more interesting than students might expect. Behr clarified the distinction between emergency procedures and emergency operations; the former are actions taken by affected students, faculty and staff, while the latter are planned actions executed by the College. Extensive plans are in place for emergency operations.

Behr continued the program by explaining that there are generally four types of incidents that could occur on campus: community, emergency, critical and terrorist. While separate protocols certainly exist for each of these events, there is a wide network of staff in place to respond to anything that might happen on campus, from the routine hospital visit to a freak natural disaster. One element of this network is the dean on call, a position that rotates weekly.

“We communicate almost every serious incident – or at least every medical incident – with a dean on call,” Behr said. “We’ve gotten great support from the on-call folks.” He also said that some students provide important support for Public Safety.

“We also have a group of about 18 to 20 students that are nationally certified Emergency Medical Technicians EMTs,” Behr said. “It’s nice to have somebody that’s trained in that middle ground.” Perhaps the most impressive component of the College’s preparation for emergency operations is its incorporation of a critical event response team CERT.

“The CERT team is a group of experienced college personnel who have significant responsibility for student life, housing, campus safety, facilities and communication,” Behr said. “We want to make sure that there is somebody from each department at the table when we are making these decisions.” The College’s CERT team is made up of about 20 people: primary, secondary and backup contacts. They are from departments like Facilities and Student and Residence life, in addition to Public Safety.

In addition to CERT, St. Olaf emergency operations employs the National Incident Management System NIMS as a method of communicating about and responding to an incident – specifically a more serious one – that might happen on campus. NIMS is a method used in the public sphere and increasingly in the private sector to prevent gridlock in an emergency situation and not allow responders to “lose track of human accountability.”

“It’s a very uniform operating model, so if you go from New York to California, you will go all across the nation and people will be familiar with the Incident Command System,” Behr said. “You could take a person from Bemidji and bring them down to Northfield, and they would mesh right in. . . It is very organized and very compartmentalized.”

Behr made it clear that the College is ready to address incidents from tiny to major, but he also addressed the role of students in responding to an incident. All students are encouraged to sign up for the Ole Alert system by visiting

“You can enter your cell phone number or your email. You can be notified either way – or both.” Notification methods include display monitors and building monitors as well. Mostly, though, Behr said that students should just “keep on keeping on” unless otherwise directed.

“We just want you to continue with your day-to-day functions,” Behr said. “We want the College to keep moving ahead and keep rolling along.” Behr said that Public Safety and other campus departments have been working on developing this updated protocol for about three years.

“It’s been a lot of work, but I think we’re in a pretty good spot right now,” he said.

The program concluded with a 20-minute video that addressed “armed hostile intruders on a college campus.” Two additional programs will be offered; Behr will present on March 17 at 12:00 p.m. and April 8 at 12:00 p.m. in Viking Theater.