Incident Command System
University of Oregon team helps bring order
At the University of Oregon, Andre Le Duc and his incident management team are trained to bring order out of the chaos that inevitably results from catastrophic situations. The team is able to quickly implement command and control infrastructure. They help beleaguered agencies manage the myriad issues — logistical, fiscal, planning, operational, safety and campus-related — prompted by a major incident.
The team would face its biggest challenge when they responded to the shooting at Umpqua Community College. The university, 70 miles north of Roseburg in Eugene, is connected to an information network that notified organizations statewide as soon as the incident became public.
Le Duc, who serves as the associate vice president and chief resilience officer for the university’s Emergency Management & Continuity Department, went through state channels to offer up his team, but it was an informal channel that resulted in the invitation by Rita Cavin, UCC’s interim president.
“We only come when asked,” Le Duc said.
Less than 24 hours
In addition to Le Duc, the team included Krista Dillon, a UO director of emergency management and fire prevention; Julie Brown, a UO director of campus relations and public information officer; and Sheryl Eyster, UO associate dean of students. They arrived in Roseburg less than 24 hours after the incident and joined UCC leadership, who were coordinating the community response. They spent five days in Roseburg providing a critical bridge between the initial incident response and the short-term recovery.
“Law enforcement and fire have an elaborate structure for who is in charge of communication, logistics, water and food, mental help. Campus communities don’t,” said Vanessa Becker, chair of the UCC board of trustees. “The UO team brought that structure, along with trained staff — that was incredible support.”
“Andre and his team made it clear that they were there to support the UCC leadership,” said Nora Vitz Harrison, a communications consultant to The Ford Family Foundation, who also assisted in the command center. “UCC administrators were victims, too. Andre gave them breathing room to get back on their feet.”
The systems set up by the UO team allowed community representatives to do strategic planning in a tight timeline. “We would meet, set goals, review progress, agree on how to apply resources, then go take action,” said Harrison. “Then, a few hours later, we’d meet again to start the process over. A giant to-do list kept everybody on task.”
“Property reunification” was one of the first tasks the group coordinated. When law enforcement evacuated UCC staff and students from campus, they left behind purses, credit cards, cell phones, house keys, computers, and cars. Making sure the right stuff was returned to the right person proved complicated.
Also on the giant to-do list: meeting mental-health needs, restoring the building where the shooting occurred, getting the campus business office operational, preparing to restart classes, writing press releases, arranging press conferences, and monitoring social media.
To keep track of it all, the UO team uses the Incident Command System, a standardized, on-scene structure developed by the U.S Forest Service to deal with wildfires and now used around the world for disasters of all kinds.
“With a well-trained team, we could make sure that when the investigation was concluded, the transfer back to campus was as seamless as possible,” Le Duc said.
And what of the effect of the emotionally charged incident on Le Duc and his team? “It changed me. It changed everyone on my staff,” he said. “There are things I will remember that I don’t want to remember. But it makes us ask: How do we operationalize what we have learned from this incident so we are better prepared to stop trauma as fast as we can?”
A need for more response teams
The incident management team at the University of Oregon is the only one of its kind at a higher education institution in Oregon, and Andre Le Duc would like to see that change. His vision is to develop a network of highly trained teams that would be available to help with an event anywhere in the state.
“We could use two or three teams like ours to adequately cover the state,” he said. “We’re also working on a structure so there is a clearer channel to self-deploy.”
In the wake of the UCC incident, several efforts advancing timely emergency response have gained traction in Oregon. Le Duc is part of a national initiative through the International Association of Emergency Managers Universities & Colleges Caucus. UCC is now a member, along with UO and Tillamook Community College.
The goal is for members to make connections, share training and preparedness initiatives, and improve their capacity to respond to campus incidents. There is also a need for crisis-response teams for non campus-based events.
Meanwhile, Le Duc is leading the effort to develop more capacity. “The goal is to leverage resources that we have as a state to aid higher education in dealing with incidents like these,” Le Duc said.