March 31, 2003

Security Garrison

By Eric Rangus

The afternoon of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, many University personnel—as well as those who work for the myriad institutions that line the Clifton Corridor—went home. The result was a colossal traffic snarl.

Of course, the problems faced by a few thousand Emory and CDC employees stuck in gridlock on Clifton, Houston Mill and North Decatur roads and other area traffic arteries paled in comparison to emergencies faced by other parts of the country that day.

Still, the evacuation experience of Sept. 11 identified a problem: a lack of coordination and communications among Emory and neighboring institutions. Everyone, as evidenced by the reaction to 9/11, had a plan to get its people out; the trouble was that nobody knew what anyone else was doing. Someone needed to bring everyone together.

That someone is Emory Police Department (EPD) Sergeant Richard Garrison. Earlier this month, the 15-year veteran was named EPD’s Emory’s homeland security coordinator.

“One of the first things we have to deal with is reaching out, both internally and externally, coordinating responses, putting them together, and documenting them,” said Garrison, a big man who exudes authority without appearing overly intimidating.

“I’m not the end-all, be-all decision maker,” he continued. “I funnel information based on our experience and our policies and procedures. We make recommendations and bring in other resources as necessary. And nothing can be done without the cooperation of the entire Emory community as well as the cooperation of DeKalb County.”

As homeland security coordinator, Garrison will be responsible for supervising EPD’s efforts as they relate to planning, preparation, prevention and response to issues of homeland security for the University community. That could involve creating crisis-management and emergency-response plans, plans to ensure compliance with physical security aspects of the USA PATRIOT Act, and coordination with public law enforcement agencies and Emory’s neighbors along the Clifton Corridor.

Since being named to the position, Garrison has been working double duty until a replacement can be found for his normal responsibilities (he is a shift supervisor in charge of four uniformed patrol officers). With a hasty refitting of his office, Garrison hasn’t had time to unpack.

For the first few weeks following his appointment, Garrison has been touching base with his partners. He has been in contact with the CDC, the VA Hospital, the Federal and Georgia emergency management agencies (FEMA and GEMA), the DeKalb County Police Department and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI).

Garrison also has spoken to key offices on campus like Campus Life, University Communications, Environmental Health and Safety, and Facilities Management, all of which would be crucial actors should an incident take place on or near campus.

“Right now we’re trying to communicate more quickly, more efficiently and more in-depth than we ever have,” Garrison said. “That’s why we need a full-time person to do it.”

After 9/11 but before his new position was created, Garrison was part of a team that drew up an interim evacuation plan for the area. It was enhanced, then presented to DeKalb County, whose representatives responded favorably. A chopper took aerial photos of each intersection to help with the planning. It is that work that forms the backbone of the finalized plan.

While meetings and coordination are being ramped up all over the community, Garrison is not starting from scratch. EPD already has well-defined plans for building evacuation (fire alarms are a common occurrence) and traffic movement (constant construction near campus requires it). Those plans are the foundation from which Garrison will work.

In conjunction with the county, plans are being put together to test the community’s evacuation procedures on tabletop and possibly using an actual exercise. The end result will get people out safely while keeping open the essential services around the University, such as hospital emergency rooms.

“We’ve always had emergency plans and procedures, because we’ve always had to consider weather, a train wreck, a hazardous materials situation, whatever,” Garrison said. “And to a degree, the response we have is not that much different than responding to a tornado that’s hit this area. We’re much more likely to have a train derailment than a terrorist attack.”

Garrison has a wide variety of law enforcement experience. He’s worked for local law enforcement, for the GBI and for U.S. Customs. Prior to coming to Emory, Garrison served as law enforcement director for a company that developed a video-interactive judgmental firearms training system.

“But that corporate environment just wasn’t me,” Garrison said.

So, he made a few calls looking for a good local police department. Everyone told him that Emory’s was the best. “It sounds kind of hokey, but it’s true,” Garrison said. “It’s a challenge, and there are a lot of issues to address here. There is security; we have international visitors, the CDC, Yerkes.”

Last year, through a Department of Justice program, Garrison trained trainers on how to deal with weapons of mass destruction in a law-enforcement setting. “We’ve always had a little bit of a threat,” he said, “but now things have changed.

“Emory has changed dramatically in the last 15 years,” Garrison continued. “It was a lot slower, quieter, smaller. We have moved up, and we have to adapt to that. In this new world, how do we adapt without impacting the University’s educational goal? It’s a challenge, but it’s doable.”