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October 8, 2001

University examines security post-Sept. 11

By Michael Terrazas


Even though no one could have foreseen the horrific events of Sept. 11, from an operational point of view, Emory responded fairly quickly to the tragedies and their effects on campus.

Top administrators huddled and were making response decisions within an hour of the terrorist attacks; the Emory Police Department (EPD) was mobilized to help direct traffic on Clifton Road; and Campus Life immediately addressed the informational and psychological needs of students, faculty and staff, while Religious Life provided support in things spiritual.

But as swift as the University’s varied reactions were, there’s nothing to say they could not be swifter, and that’s exactly what those in charge of Emory operations and security have had in mind ever since the dust settled in New York and Washington.

“We always look for opportunities to review and enhance the security and procedures we have, and this is another opportunity to conduct those reviews and see what we can improve,” said EPD Chief Craig Watson.

Watson and Erick Gaither, senior associate vice president for business management, said the top priority is streamlining communication channels not just within the University, but among all the entities located in the Clifton Corridor. Tens of thousands of people live and work along a mile-long stretch of four-lane road, and that sort of population density can get even thicker in a time of crisis.

“The president has asked a group to get together to address these issues; we want to set up a good flow of information between all of us on the corridor,” Gaither said. “What this has done is made us, as well as the rest of the nation, look at a completely different aspect [of emergency response].”

That aspect is the suddenly haunting possibility of having to evacuate many or even all of the students and employees along Clifton. On Sept. 11, the University sent all non-essential employees home at noon, and the resulting traffic jam was even worse than a normal rush hour, Gaither said, since on a typical day workers and students arrive at or depart the area at different times.

Complicating matters further was the logical assumption that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could be a legitimate target for terrorism, which introduced a greater security and police presence. DeKalb County police actually closed a stretch of Clifton around the CDC on Sept. 11, both for security reasons and to help clear traffic out of the area.

Watson said his department will work with DeKalb police to coordinate their responses in the event of another such emergency. He said the two agencies will take existing plans for special events (such as Commence-ment and even the 1996 Olympic Games) and build on them to come up with a framework that could be used in the case of a complete evacuation.

Meanwhile, within the campus, Gaither said building-specific evacuation plans already exist and are available on the University’s Fire Safety website, located at Terrorist attacks notwithstanding, Gaither said it’s simply a good idea for everyone to be familiar with the evacuation plans, emergency exits and stairwells at the buildings in which they spend a good deal of time—fires burn just as hot whether terrorists start them or not.

Still, despite the preparations and the precautions, Watson said people at Emory should not feel especially threatened because every college and University in the country is looking at the same kind of security issues as Emory. Indeed, Campus Life was not the only University office looking after the psychological well-being of its constituents on Sept. 11.

“When something like that happens, yes, it’s a long way away, but that doesn’t mean you don’t feel uncomfortable,” Watson said. “One of our main goals that day was to be out and be as visible as we possibly could, as reassurances to folks. A uniform visibility and presence usually makes people feel a little safer and a little better.”


Back to Emory Report October 8, 2001