Tarleton gets better prepared for emergencies
By Ashley Ford —
Updated Sept. 13
Tarleton State University’s first emergency management coordinator says fire drills, training and new medical equipment will help the campus better deal with disaster and tragedies when they strike.
Kirk Turner, a 26-year veteran of the Arlington Fire Department, is the first person to hold the job of emergency management coordinator. He says it is his responsibility to look for ways to better prepare the campus for emergencies.
“We’ve got to plug ourselves into the communications system, meaning, if someone does call in, if someone is passed out, has a heart attack or is injured, we have to be called. We have our radios. We will be on campus to respond,” Turner said.
Turner says he’s doing everything he can to make sure the people dealing with campus emergencies are prepared.
Turner spends the majority of his time out of the office checking up on things, but when he is in the office he is on high alert. Turner is constantly listening to police and fire radios in his office, ready to assist in any way.
Turner has an extensive background in safety and training from his years with the Arlington Fire Department, where he made his way up to fire lieutenant. Turner said his experience as a firefighter gives him the perspective to better prepare the campus for emergencies.
In 2010, Turner took a new job with airplane maker Airbus as sergeant manager of fire and security chief.
Turner said being a firefighter for so long taught him how to mitigate an incident. Moving from the public to private sector, Turner had to have more of a managing mindset when handling situations, but he used his experience being on the field to create the best way to handle the task.
Now making the jump from corporate to higher education, Turner says he’s found new obstacles when integrating new programs and procedures but said, he has been communicating with leaders in all buildings for feedback.
One obstacle he has run into is implementing certain drills. Turner said for the first time, fire drills would be implemented in educational buildings. He said these fire drills are being encouraged by the Texas A&M University System. Turner said he hopes to negotiate to do two to three drills a year on campus.
He also says he has “to be very sensitive to the educational environment.” For example,
if there were to be a fire drill in a educational building where students were testing, that test would be invalidated for everyone in the drill.
Turner said the biggest gap in Tarleton’s emergency preparedness is not having any medical emergency response capability. Tarleton does have a 15-person police department, but Turner says medical emergencies are handled by the city.
So Turner’s been working with department leaders to put together a Building Emergency Coordinator Program.
“This program will install a network of building coordinators across the campus who will be specifically trained to be a leader in severe weather, fires and medical emergencies.”
Turner met first with the Department of Communication Studies about the program. During this orientation, Turner discussed the mission of the program, how to deal with fire, medical and violent emergency situations and gave department leaders red emergency bags.
Emergency medical bags were handed out during these orientations. These red bags contain a neon vest to indicate who the coordinator is, a first aid kit and flashlights. Turner said more items will be put into the bags as the semesters go on.
More equipment will be added to the bags such as scene control tape, duct tape, and personal protective equipment. “Ultimately they will have enough supplies in their bag to allow them to be self-sufficient for many hours with no help,” Turner said.
“Individuals that are respected, know the workings of the building, that can stay calm in an emergency and make appropriate decisions” were selected to be the building emergency coordinators, Turner said. These leaders will be trained and certified in CPR and Automated External Defibrillators (AED) usage.
Turner said responsibilities of building emergency coordinators “is to bridge the gap from the time the incident happens until I can get there or someone from our emergency response system can get there. So I’ve been telling them (building emergency coordinators) ‘you’re only responsible for about three to five minutes worth of activity. And in that three to five minutes there are just a few things that are priority depending on what the situation is. Just worry about those things’.”
There are three situations they were trained on: severe weather, fire evacuation, medical emergencies and violent acts. For each situation the steps coordinators take differentiate. Coordinators were also educated on causes of different fire and how to put them out and how to operate a fire extinguisher.
For medical emergencies the first step for the coordinator is to decide how severe the incident is: minor first aid (minor cuts, sprains, strains, bumps, bruises, upset stomach and etc.), medical emergencies (chest pain, difficulty breathing, passed out and etc.) or traumatic emergencies (serious laceration, broken or dislocated bones, head injury and etc.). After identifying the severity of the situation, he or she can act accordingly.
“So far we have 15 coordinators who have received basic supplies and training with an additional five going online soon. As soon as those five are up and running, we will schedule their CPR, AED and first aid classes giving us an additional 20 trained responders around the campus to help in an emergency,” Turner said.
The group present in the first orientation was the group that would have responded to the medical emergency that claimed the life of Daniel Jones, the kinesiology major who died after having a seizure during a communications class in the O.A. Grant Humanities building last spring.
Turner was notified of this incident when he arrived at Tarleton.
“I don’t think that anything we are putting in place would change the outcome of that specific event. But it could have been an event that something we are putting in place could have changed.” Turner added, “They were slow getting an AED there I think, or slower than they were comfortable with. It probably wouldn’t have changed anything but what if it could have?”
Tarleton’s campus has a total of 21 AED’s available for 12,326 students. With only one of those AED’s in residential hall, Legends Hall. This is something Turner said he wants to change. Turner is in the process of getting more AED’s and so far he has been approved to purchase eight though he said 15 would make him feel better.
With these AED’s, Turner plans to distribute seven of them on campus where he feels is necessary while, leaving the eighth AED on a emergency medical response cart.
Turner said with access to the cart, he would arrive at situations in about three to five minutes depending where the incident is.
Turner compared the number of AED’s per capita on Tarleton’s campus with the Texas A&M University campus in College Station saying they have fewer.
“So we are okay there if you’re looking at the ratio judging us between A&M. But does that mean that’s where I want it to be? No. I’m uncomfortable about a few things. I think we need more. Along with that goes the training to use it.”
The Texas A&M University’s website says they have 64,376 students. According to the A&M AED location map, the College Station campus along with related facilities off campus include 79 AED’s.
Turner said he wants to eventually have AED’s in every residential hall and heavily populated educational buildings.
Turner is working on multiple projects to prepare the university for the unexpected. Turner in the next year is trying to make Tarleton a Storm Ready University.
“It’s through the national weather service and basically it’s a recognition of if you do things at your university that reach the level that they would like for it to be. They will deem you a Storm Ready University,” Turner said.
“What I can promise is that our current plan is to be diligent in our monitoring of severe weather potential, and irritating in our notification if we feel it’s warranted. Code Purple will continue to be the cornerstone of our notification system so it’s very important to ensure that students and staff are signed up, and that their information in the system is accurate,” Turner said.
A Disaster Recovery/Continuity of Operations Plan has been approved but Turner said the department is still vetting some software solutions for this project.
“This plan already exists for IT (information technology) types of issues, but not for the university as a whole. We’re going to work with the building coordinators to develop plans for each college, program (and) building. The basic question we’ll ask will be: What’s your plan should you lose the use of your building or part of the building for an extended period of time? How will you continue to operate?” Turner said.
Turner also plans to establish an Emergency Response Team on campus.
“This team will be responsible for responding to medical emergencies to bridge the gap between the incident happening and arrival or outside responders,” Turner said.
These individuals are separate from the building emergency coordinators. The response team will be made up of volunteer fire fighters and other volunteers with more experience.