YSU holds emergency planning exercise

On Wednesday, Youngstown State University held its annual Emergency Planning Exercise at the YSU Police Department. Known as a tabletop exercise — deans, YSU police officers and an array of administrators participated in a round table discussion about YSU’s protocol and contingency plans during a crisis.

“We brought in all of the different departments and agency heads from across the university to come down and run through scenarios, as to what our response and our responsibilities for each of those departments or schools would be,” said YSU Police Chief John Beshara.

Stan Paulson, an FBI special agent from Cleveland, led the exercise by pitching the group a crisis scenario.

“He walks people through various scenarios of what may happen on their campuses,” said Ron Cole, YSU’s Public Information Officer and an attendee of the event. “It is to really get a sense of what we do well and what we could do better.”

Paulson tasked the YSU employees to answer a series of questions about handling the calamity itself and
the aftermath.

“Bad guys crash into campus as they are fleeing from a botched arrest, if you will. They run onto campus. One runs eastward on campus, down university plaza, down Spring Street, to the Wick area and is arrested in the parking lot on the far end,” Paulson said. “Our second guy runs into Kilcawley Center, shoots several rounds into the air in order to clear a path so that he can escape, runs down across campus, winds up in Cushwa, runs into the atrium, grabs some hostages, pulls them into the conference room, barricades himself in, starts demanding money, car, escape route.”

Paulson proceeded to question attendees over the four-hour session over how YSU would deal with problems ranging from communicating with students, controlling hysterical crowds, removing students from the incident zone and contacting and controlling the media.

Cole outlined the procedure to make students, staff and faculty aware of a crisis through the alert system, the web page and even
the media.

“We would communicate the facts as we know them and as they evolve through the incident. We have the
capabilities on our web page to remove the main part of that web page and put a message up there,” Cole said. “The things that I would be thinking of is maybe setting up a media center of some sort. We have talked about different places on campus where we might do that, depending on the breath of the crisis.”

YSUPD officers detailed the specifics of the approach to handle this hypothetical hostage situation. Beshara elaborated on this by defining what tactics and equipment officers would use as the situation evolved further, as well as the response if the situation went south and violence erupted.

“If somebody were shot, I would send an order,” Beshara said. “We have a response team ready on site to gain entry into that area that would, by any and legal means possible, stop the threat.”

As part of this expansive exercise, Paulson encouraged attendees to look toward the future by inquiring about the process to return functions to normal after a crisis. This included making students feel safe on campus again, counseling for those either directly or indirectly impacted by the situation and future crisis prevention techniques.

Anne Lally, the mental health counselor at YSU, highlighted the university’s counseling procedure. She said that after the event, YSU’s prerogative is to make it apparent that counseling for impacted parties is offered immediately.

“Usually, the students have to process it for awhile. Usually, it is not an immediacy, but if it is, we are certainly there,” Lally said. “When I find out about students that have been directly affected by the incident, then I reach out to them specifically — individually.”

By the end of the event, Paulson had tackled a myriad of emergency management’s many facets, and participants had thoroughly covered YSU’s crisis doctrine.

“So, we have walked through a complex scenario on campus. Our bad guy has been lethally dealt with, our students have been successfully rescued, we’ve talked about command post operations and we have talked about crisis management in general,” Paulson said.