New threats face U Emergency Management team

Josh Linehan

In a cramped basement room in Morrill Hall, Judson Freed doesn’t have much time to chat.

Hammers bang into the walls of the former bomb shelter that is now his office. Workers are installing a fire alarm system in the building, which houses the University’s top administration – including President Mark Yudof. Making sure such buildings have alarms and evacuation plans is a small part of Freed’s job.

He is the deputy director of emergency management, and three months after the attacks on the United States at the World Trade Center and Pentagon, he’s also one of the busiest men on campus.

With 147 buildings on the Twin Cities campuses alone, and 40,000 to 50,000 people wandering among them at any given time, planning for every possible emergency can be like trying to finger-paint the Sistine Chapel.

Freed must make sure everyone in every building in Minneapolis knows what to do in case of a fire, make sure every sporting event has emergency medical technicians present and ensure tree researchers in Crookston know what to do in case their work comes under attack.

And though the events of Sept. 11 have increased his workload and visibility, Freed said his three-person department can’t change how it does business.

“If I plan for a fire, a tornado, an earthquake, a tidal wave, a hurricane, a blizzard, a rainstorm, a flood, a guy with a pipebomb, well, I would have missed a guy crashing airplanes into buildings,” Freed said.

Rather, emergency managers search for steps to be taken in the event of any tragedy.

“Instead of planning for what happens if somebody crashed an airplane into a building and the building falls over, I plan for what happens if the building falls over. I don’t care why,” Freed said. “That’s what I’m paid to do. I try and imagine the terrible things that can happen here.”

After Sept. 11 people from more than 15 buildings have called the department, asking for new evacuation plans. Suddenly, the office buzzes with activity.

In early October, the Office of the President authorized a new steering committee for emergency management policy. Chaired by Vice President Tonya Moten Brown, the group meets weekly with orders to bring together separate departments and deliver a solid, workable emergency plan.

“In the past, my department was not well known. There was a flurry of activity around Y2K time,” Freed said. “Up until that point, I was really a faceless bureaucrat. I used to joke with people, you know, ‘What do you do for a living?’ ‘I’m a faceless bureaucrat.'”

But by 2002, emergency management might be a buzzword.

Emergency Management was originally called civil defense and began as early as the late 1940s. It reached its peak during 1960s duck-and-cover paranoia. While school children huddled under their desks, the government hired experts to plan what to do if the Soviets launched missiles.

The University, believed to be the first college with a civil defense department, hired Wally Caryl in April 1967. Because of the school’s size, it is recognized as a separate entity from any of the cities that house it and must coordinate its emergency plans with the federally mandated managers in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Morris, Crookston and Duluth.

Since then, the University has had emergency plans in place. But emergency plans must be constantly updated to deal with changing personnel, continuous construction and ever-evolving technology.

“A big role has been planning. When you develop a plan, as my boss would say, a plan is never finished. If you finish the plan today, tomorrow you start reviewing it for next year,” Freed said

Although Freed’s office was working on rewriting the University’s emergency guide before Sept. 11, he now has a mandate to get it done fast. As of Wednesday, the committee had prepared a list of ideas and was prioritizing them before sending them to Yudof.

The steering committee – which includes Eric Kruse, vice president for University Services, George Alyward, University police chief, Mark Cox, director of health and safety, Christine Maziar, vice president for the graduate school, Robert Jones, vice president for student life and development, Sandra Gardebring, vice president for University Relations and Carol Carrier vice president for human resources – is specifically designed to bring together enough clout to cut through the red tape that can pile up at an institution with many separate departments.

Ideas the committee is currently considering include changing more doors from key lock to card access, adding fire alarms to the many campus buildings without them, preparing evacuation plans for all buildings, adding signs to aid in evacuation and providing warning radios police officers could trigger to sound an alarm.

Nothing is off the table. Whatever changes are implemented, however, will be useless without getting the message out that security is a high priority.

Kruse, whose job gives him authority over the entire physical University, said bridging those boundaries has been the hardest task.

“A big part of this is going to be education of the community,” Kruse said, “how the hundreds of thousands who work in these buildings do their daily business go about doing it. For example, if an area has card access and the door is blocked open, card access doesn’t do any good.”

Card access systems, security cameras and extra police, as well as training and planning, cost money. With the University raising tuition and a $2 billion state budget shortfall on the horizon, funds might be scarce.

Yudof directed the steering committee not to consider finances yet but to decide what needed to be done first.

“I feared the proposals and the needs weren’t percolating up to me,” Yudof said. “The whole idea was to get it to my office. It’s my way to sleep at night.”

Several of the processes to upgrade safety are expensive. Installing a fire alarm system in a building can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, up to a million dollars for a large building, Freed said. In addition, security measures such as video cameras and card access systems require maintenance and monitoring by full-time employees, an exponentially increasing expense, he said.

The money will come from various places. Yudof said some could come in the form of a capital funds request from the state Legislature. Individual departments could absorb a portion, and additional funds could come from central reserves.

“I will look for funds where I can find them,” Yudof said.

The department of emergency management currently receives approximately $100,000 from the University annually, and supplements its budget with approximately $40,000 from federal grants and outside activities such as providing EMT’s at sporting events, Cox said. Cox also said the department would request significantly more in the future.

Several departments, including Environmental Health and Safety and the police, would require increased personnel, depending on which proposals are enacted.

Emergency Management recently added a third staff member but is only budgeted for that number until the first of the year. Freed is hopeful but cautious about his department getting the funding it needs.

“I’ll say my prayers we get funded,” Freed said. “If there’s a budget shortfall in the state, we have to assume there will be problems for the University.

“Everbody’s going to take a hit
on that.”

For now, Freed will keep working 16-hour days at the same job he was doing when no one knew who he was or what he did. “It’s all stuff that has to be done yesterday now,” Freed said.

And the steering committee will continue planning and meeting weekly.

“I think we know the things to worry about, but we don’t have the answers yet,” Gardebring said.

Josh Linehan welcomes comments at [email protected]