A colleague and I were talking about the tornado warning stuff last Monday or Tuesday and this person said “you know, I wouldn’t be surprised if they brought up that dang flipchart thing again.” Well, while I was out of town or otherwise distracted by that conference I went to last week, that’s exactly what happened: first VP for communications Walter Kraft and then Provost Kim Schatzel posted reminders about what to do during a tornado warning, and both referred to the Emergency Procedures Guide. They mention a web site, but I think they are also referring to a flip chart I blogged about here in November 2010.
In my view, that guide (and possibly these latest emails?) are classic retroactive “CYA” documents. Here’s what I said when seeing the flip chart version of this a couple years ago:
My first reaction (well, this was one I should say that was prompted by one of my colleagues too) was that this is the classic institutional “Cover Your Ass”document. The next time someone tries to sue EMU for distress caused by being trapped in an elevator, my guess is that EMU’s initial response will be “Well, did you follow the instructions for elevator emergencies published in the flip chart? No? We don’t think you have a claim here, my friend.” Or worse yet if there is a shooter loose on campus: no one can argue that EMU was unprepared because there’s a flip chart.
I think there are at least two other significant problems with the flip chart. First, I am highly unlikely to have it or any other guide concerning what to do during an emergency handy during an actual emergency. Second, I think this is horribly written, sounding more like legalese CYA language rather than actual user-friendly advice. And third and perhaps most important, these instructions don’t answer some of the basic questions I know I would have had if I had been teaching or coming to campus as a student the evening of the tornado warning. The safety information says that “personal safety” should be the top priority, but it doesn’t say if classes are to continue or not, and it doesn’t give any meaningful information for what students traveling to campus are supposed to do, and it also doesn’t say anything about classes continuing.
Based on what happened during this most recent tornado warning, I’d suggest two addendums/clarifications to the procedure. First, just have a flat-out policy that says something like “during a tornado warning, classes are cancelled, all should remain in a safe area until the storm has passed, and students commuting to and from campus should do the same until the warning has expired.” Or something like that. Second, it would be very VERY easy for the RAVE alerts to include a web page for more information– that is, instead of just a “Tornado warning” text message, why not have “Tornado warning– see http://www.emich.edu/publicsafety/emo/procedures/tornado.php”? Sure, not everyone receiving that message is going to have a smart phone or other device that makes that link usable, but I guarantee the number of people who could have gotten something out of a link to procedures and processes is about 1000% higher than the number of people who referenced their safety flip chart.