Mass casualties: Let’s talk about that

Nobody wants to think about horrific things happening at Indiana University that could result in loss of life for even one student or employee, let alone large numbers of people; yet many people do think about this very thing – because it’s part of their jobs.

Tornado damage in Henryville, Ind.

Tornado damage in Henryville, Ind.

I attended two seminars last month organized to discuss the emergency response to mass casualty events that theoretically could occur on or near the IU Bloomington campus and at IUPUI. An active shooter situation often comes to mind, such as the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.

Seminar participants pointed out that natural disasters and accidents can cause loss of life, too, such as the deaths that occurred after the bonfire tower collapse at Texas A&M in 1999 and the tornado deaths at the University of Alabama in 2011. The deadly Henryville, Ind., tornado that hit in 2012 was a mere 11 miles from the IU Southeast campus and its residence halls.

“Some things are unpleasant to think about and talk about but are much, much worse to deal with at the time of a disaster if planning isn’t done in advance,” said Mark Bruhn, associate vice president for Public Safety and Institutional Assurance.

It was a morbid topic, but I found the gatherings and discussions highly encouraging because of the collection of campus, city, county and state responders who participated. And for many of them, they already knew each other through meetings and exercises.

“Trust is an important part of responses to disasters,” said Diane Mack, university director of Emergency Management and Continuity. “Everyone needs to do their part, understand their roles and trust that others will perform as well. We commonly say that business cards should be exchanged BEFORE the disaster happens. Seminars such as these help everyone get to know each other in advance, exchange their business cards and share information on their roles, to build that trust and ensure the coordination is already there when the disaster hits.”

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