Donald Reuker|Cigar
Donald Reuker|Cigar

Preparations for emergencies happen long before the situations themselves emerge, and at the University of Rhode Island the Office of Emergency Management is behind the scenes preparing.  .

URI is Rhode Island’s first higher education institute to have a dedicated emergency management staff. The office’s three-person staff was established to make sure the university is prepared to respond to all hazardous emergencies, including snowstorms, an active shooter and power outages. Sam Adams, assistant director of Public Safety and the director of Emergency Management, said the office’s primary role is to work with all of the university divisions and departments to ensure a coordinated response.

“A lot of this happens behind the scenes,” Adams said. “I think that’s an indication of a good emergency management program that it’s no big deal, it just happens. Everybody is in a rhythm; We know what our roles are.”

With four different campuses and about 20,000 students, faculty and staff to keep safe, different departments within each campus help the emergency management program run. Adams said it is the Office of Emergency Management’s job to make sure everyone is “rolling in the same direction and are able to talk to one another.”

“Last winter we learned some lessons, which were great lessons,” Adams said. “Since we had so many storms we were able to look at one storm after another and the subtlety of how we made decisions to cancel classes or not canceling classes. So I feel like we are going into this winter better prepared, we figured out works better and what kind of bogs us down.”

The Weather Channel reported that this upcoming winter will be worse than the last, but Adams believes the university is in good shape to handle another bad winter.

“We’ve improved our communications and we have a couple more staff members on the fire and life safety side,” Adams said. “From a coordination standpoint, I think we are in a better position than we’ve ever been.”

Adams started the Campus Emergency Management Advisory Council (CEMAC) last winter. The council is made up of representatives from every department, such as Student Life, facilities, University Police, Housing and Residential Life, Health Services, Dining Services and more. Since snowstorms happen so often in New England, CEMAC is prepared for them, but Adams said he worries about something failing.

“If something we always rely on breaks, we have to make up for that,” Adams said. “But in general, snowstorms, from an emergency management standpoint, [are] not that big of a deal. Where it gets to be tough is really within specific areas like facilities and the grounds.”

The office tries to bring everyone together on a monthly basis, and Adams said this is done to make the different groups used to working together. Thanks to this practice, they are able to create an initial assessment team based on the emergency’s context.

“Those CEMAC meetings cover everything,” Dave Lavallee, the assistant director of communications, said. “From concert preparations at the Ryan center to homecoming in addition to what we are looking at this year for the flu and in addition to storms. It’s an all hazards look at.”

Adams said that bringing everyone together improves everybody’s situational awareness. In their December meeting they will start to discuss winter storms, what is coming, what the Farmer’s Almanac predicts the winter will look like and what has changed since last winter.

Though winters similar to last year’s can pose challenges for the Emergency Management office with wearing out equipment and wearing out workers, Adams said they are as prepared as possible.

“I never like to say that we are fully prepared because things happen,” Adams said. “But we are as prepared as can reasonably be expected and we are prepared for pretty much anything that comes at us.”

There are two important things that students and faculty can and should do to stay prepared. Adams said that one is to register for the emergency notification system, which will send texts, phone calls and emails for anything including canceled classes. The second is to monitor the official notifications that the university sends.