University of Calgary

No crisis can faze this planner

UToday HomeJanuary 29, 2013

Brian Kitching, emergency response plan coordinator, helps the campus community be prepared for any crisis. Photo by Riley BrandtBrian Kitching, emergency response plan coordinator, helps the campus community be prepared for any crisis. Photo by Riley BrandtOn any given day, Brian Kitching could be training University of Calgary Child Care Centre workers about how to deal with an emergency lockdown or communicating with agencies to prepare for an upcoming visit by the royals to nearby Foothills Hospital.

Kitching has had a role in both of these activities, and many more, since coming to the university four years ago to be the Emergency Response Plan Coordinator. Much of what he does also involves preparing the up to 30,000 people who might be on campus for a range of scenarios. They can be as minor as a smoke alarm, as major as a death on campus, and – in the extreme – an incident involving a gunman.

“Small fires are more realistic than a shooting,” says Kitching, but his department and the university must be prepared for everything.

Headline news from incidents elsewhere can create concern for some staff and faculty, says Kitching. When that happens, he often gets requests for lockdown training. So far, he’s given the one-hour presentation to 1,000 people on campus, including the University Child Care Centre staff and Faculty of Nursing. There are not many campuses in Canada, he adds, that offer similar training.

Most days though, the university is dealing with the more mundane, such as fire alarms and smoke detectors that go off about 300 times annually, even if there is no fire.

Kitching, along with first responders in the Crisis Management Team and the Emergency Operations Group, work from the university’s master emergency plan.

The plans are structured on an Incident Command System. “It’s a military standard structure,” says Kitching. After a 25-year career in the RCMP in Vancouver, Kitching did emergency training with the Canadian military while living in Victoria, B.C.

The department has to stay nimble in its emergency plans, says Kitching, and that’s partly why a new emergency text messaging system recently replaced the university’s voice system.

Kitching says a big part of a successful emergency plan is participation by everyone at every level. This means ensuring everyone knows how to respond to a crisis.

“Each department needs to be able to pick up the pieces and carry on,” he says.

That can include things as simple as making alternative arrangements for students to attend class.

“People need to know and take advantage of resources on a daily basis to know that their work environment is safe. If people don’t take action on their part, our help isn’t as effective as it should be.”