In Mike Bamberger’s line of work, you have to be ready for anything.
As the emergency preparedness coordinator for Oregon State University, he is responsible for the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors at all university facilities. On a typical day, that could be upwards of 30,000 people on the main Corvallis campus alone.
And because he can’t personally protect all of them at once, the next best thing is preparing them to protect themselves.
“There’s one of me, and there’s 30,000 of them,” he pointed out.
Since coming to work at OSU last November, Bamberger has been working on an overarching emergency response structure for the entire university. At the same time, he’s been helping to develop more focused response plans at the college and department level, educating university employees on what to do in an emergency and conducting drills and training exercises.
“If I’ve got 12 colleges and 35 departments to take care of themselves while I develop an overall university response plan, it’ll all work out nicely,” he said.
The most frequent types of emergencies that crop up on campus are the ordinary, everyday kind: snowstorms, power outages, water main breaks.
With a large population of young people in close proximity to each other, another major concern is an infectious disease outbreak. “For us, the (main) possibilities are influenza, measles (and) meningitis,” he said.
Other types of emergencies are less likely but no less concerning.
At a research university like OSU, chemical spills, biohazards and bomb threats are all possibilities — something Bamberger trained for during an eight-year hitch in the Army Chemical Corps. And of course there is the chance of a shooter opening fire on campus — a grim scenario that has played out at other American universities.
“We plan for that,” Bamberger said. “We teach the run-hide-fight response.”
In other words, if someone starts shooting on campus, the first option is to flee to a place of safety. If that’s not possible, hide from the shooter. And if all else fails, fight for your life.
And then there are the natural disasters, such as a major earthquake along the Cascadia Subduction Zone — “the Big One,” as Bamberger puts it.
“When you’re talking about an earthquake, we’re looking at the whole gamut of loss of water, loss of power, feeding operations, sheltering operations,” he said.
What to do in the event of an earthquake will be the focus of a safety exercise Thursday, when OSU takes part in the Great Oregon Shakeout, an annual earthquake preparedness campaign.
OSU also is using technology to help people cope with emergencies. Several years ago the university set up a subscription-based alert system that enables students, faculty and staff to sign up for notifications via email, phone and text in the event of a crisis.
And just last month the university rolled out a new app called In Case of Crises, which allows users to access OSU’s response plans for all types of emergencies on their mobile devices.
A surprising number of those response plans basically boil down to two things: evacuate the area or take shelter where you are.
“Those are the two responses we always do,” Bamberger said. “Either get out of the way or, if you can’t get out of the way, shelter in place.”
Obviously, Bamberger is a great believer in planning and education to minimize the risk of emergency situations. But the best protection, he believes, boils down to common sense: Be aware of your surroundings, and take steps to prepare yourself in case the unthinkable happens.
“If people do the right thing in the first five minutes, the (emergency) responders can focus on the response,” he said. “I worry that people won’t prepare and plan for events themselves. That’s why we do all this pushing of monthly educations and plans and exercises.”
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