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School of Thought

Risks associated with higher education institutions are many, ranging from targeted violence to indiscriminate severe weather. Whether planned or not, both types of events demand a well-conceived emergency response be available.


April 1, 2017   by Dawn H. Puro, Senior Vice President, Specialty Casualty, Public Entity Lines, Ironshore; and Victor Ip, Vice President, Specialty Casualty, Ironshore Canada


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Disruptive events on college and university campuses present challenges for leadership facing unprecedented potential for financial loss. Reports indicate that random acts of violence and episodic occurrences have increased dramatically in recent years. Potential risk of unexpected disruption demands that educational institutions dedicate attention to preparedness with safety protocols to protect faculty, staff and students, as well as implement operational logistics to regain normalcy as expediently as possible.

Timely, responsive action by educational institutions victimized by acts of violence or faced with nature’s wrath can establish the basis for sound risk management practices that, ultimately, influence longer-term risk mitigation.

Senseless individual acts of terror erupting on the national stage place educational institutions in a perilous position to uphold the integrity and reputation of their schools as “safe havens.”

Dawn H. Puro, Senior Vice President, Specialty Casualty, Public Entity Lines, Ironshore

Campus violence involving an active shooting or lone-wolf attack has soared in frequency within the United States. Mass shootings in Canada are rare compared with the U.S., perhaps because of stricter gun control laws.

Natural weather-related disasters, such as hurricanes, flooding and other severe events, for their part, can occur anywhere at any time.

ACTS OF CAMPUS VIOLENCE

School violence events are broadly considered to be any random criminal act or series of actions, including active shooting or use of physical weapons, and explosive devices that result in personal injury to administration, faculty, personnel and students. An active shooter – or lone-wolf attack – has been defined as an individual(s) engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined, populated area.

In the U.S., the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) tracks shooting occurrences when four or more people are wounded or killed, including the attacker. The latest FBI statistics, included in a report released in June 2016, revealed that the number of incidents was the highest annualized average within a two-year period, totalling 136.

This compares with 20 active shooter events in 2014 and 2015, a staggering increase from 2000 when the FBI listed only one such attack.

These acts occurred in 26 states, involving more than 150 causalities, with seven out of 10 incidents taking place in schools and businesses.

The campus attack at Ohio State University in November 2016 with the assailant wielding a machete represented the latest such incident, following more than two dozen other events at educational institutions in the U.S. last year.

In Canada, the gun violence scenario is in stark contrast to the U.S. Approximately one-fifth of police-reported violent crimes involved youth on school property. Yet, there have only been four attacks on Canadian colleges and universities in the past six years.

In 2016, two people were killed and seven injured when a 17 year-old student opened fire inside the La Loche Community School located in La Loche, Saskatchewan.

Canada’s most notorious school shooting was the Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal in 1989. Labelled as a hate crime against women, the 25-year-old attacker embarked on a shooting spree with a legally obtained semi-automatic rifle and hunting knife. Fourteen women were killed and an additional 10 women and four men were injured before the attacker killed himself.

SOFT TARGETS

Educational institutions are among “soft-target” entities that are increasingly vulnerable to attacks. Any open public space – such as restaurants, movie theatres, malls, nightclubs and governmental properties – face heightened exposure to risk and subsequent consequences.

Higher education institutions recognize the driving need to take precautionary measures to protect, first and foremost, their students, as well as other campus personnel. Almost 70% of active shootings, as an example, are five minutes or less in duration and the majority are over before law enforcement or first responders arrive on the scene. Greater understanding and preparedness to confront exposure to violent risk are taking centre stage.

More than two years ago, a collective of Alberta universities, including the University of Alberta and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), introduced an awareness campaign to educate and inform its institutional communities in the event of an active-shooter incident on campus.

Alberta’s initiative has been cited as the first to launch a co-ordinated effort throughout a province. The training and preparedness program mirrored the plan developed for colleges and universities by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Such efforts underscore the realization that the probability of a campus attack is today’s reality.

Educational institutions, therefore, are becoming more proactive to reduce and mitigate the risk. Threat assessment teams, emergency notice protocols, training and notification systems, as well as social media, are being institutionalized for expertly managing campus safety and response.

SEVERE WEATHER

Weather-related risks, while often difficult to predict, require similar attention. Several high-profile, widely reported weather events shine a spotlight on the tentacles of consequence triggered by severe natural disasters.

Most notably in the U.S., Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans in 2005. Tulane University, with a student body of more than 13,500, is located in the heart of New Orleans Garden District spanning over 110 acres. While advance preparations anticipated the worst-case scenario, the sudden breach of the city’s levees sparked the most catastrophic natural disaster in the history of the country.

Unexpected event-related expenditures incurred during and in the aftermath of the devastation posed significant financial loss to the university. Various methods and procedures were utilized to inform and update the student body, faculty, staff, personnel and leadership throughout its far-reaching institutional footprint during what would become days and weeks of damage control.

For weather events, while perhaps not the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina or other natural adversities, evacuation planning is a core priority. An evacuation event requiring insurance coverage reimbursement is the deliberate and controlled relocation of the institution’s students, faculty, personnel and others on campus properties. Expenses associated with necessary transportation, relocation, lodging alternatives, food stipends and emergency packages are integral for responsible evacuation plans.

Notably, Canada withstood a sustained monster disaster in last year’s Fort McMurray wildfires in Alberta. Numerous communities in the disaster’s path were forced to relocate as a result of the evacuation of entire towns and cities, thus ending the school year for many students.

Many affected individuals and families moved to new neighbourhoods across the city or even outside the province. Students were transferred to attend different schools.

Northern Lakes College situated near the Town of Slave Lake, hard hit during the Slave Lake fire in 2011, was converted into a make-shift Red Cross centre for displaced residents.

In the aftermath of the fires, towns focused on redevelopment to establish a sense of normalcy. Many school boards, though, were concerned that the return would incite traumatic memories of the fire for some deeply affected students.

Educators, therefore, were trained to help students deal with the anxiety and stress caused by the harrowing after effects of the wildfires on their lives.

RISK MITIGATION PRACTICES

Preparedness can be a vast undertaking. Timely and efficient response can be a paramount mitigating factor, enabling the educational institution to withstand the repercussions of a disruptive event and to facilitate operational recovery.

A plan of action to address a violent attack or weather episode that may require evacuation can subdue the fear of chaos among students, faculty, personnel and the extended community of parents, adjunct professors, part-time employees and commuters. Insurance coverage for financial loss exposure provides reimbursement for expenditures resulting from on-campus disruptive events impacting university operations.

Costs associated with a campus disturbance are characteristically unique, depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident. In some instances, the community or an organization, such as the Red Cross, can control immediate needs. Other events, however, must rely on insurance-covered assistance.

Overall, the risk of financial loss can be more effectively contained when proper, responsive actions are taken immediately to aid those individuals most affected.

In the immediate real-time and longer-term aftermath, crisis management services can lessen the lingering severity of the incident to accelerate operational recovery. Access to professional resources is often critical to empower university leadership and designated personnel to leverage crisis expertise skills for timely response to an occurrence under the glare of an unfolding scenario.

Costs may be incurred to leverage the professional expertise of third-party resources, such as security services, counselling and consultant fees. Post-event support may require medical services and psychological intervention.

SOCIAL OUTREACH

Social media has proved to be a powerful tool for notification and actionable restraint. Website postings, alerts, systematic telephone outreach and text messages are indispensable tools. Yet, recent events indicate other social platforms shared throughout individually followed communities can speed and infiltrate individuals’ sphere of facts, such as lockdowns, scene of the incident, law enforcement presence and recommended action.

Higher education institutions must have an established plan to reach the entire campus community immediately at any time throughout the year, not just during the academic calendars.

University risk management is advised to take precautionary steps to update and implement “testing” of the emergency plan on a regular, periodic schedule. In many cases, universities run campus-wide drills to inform their constituents of the protocols, notification systems and courses of action during new student orientation or at the start of a new school year.

Yet, the complexion of student enrollment, faculty and university personnel changes from semester to semester throughout the academic year. During summer months, many college and university campus facilities offer interim classes, provide topical educational seminars or host sports programs for high school athletics.

These diverse communities likely to be on campus during a disruptive event should be duly informed to avoid fear and confusion.

The overarching benefits of insurance coverage assistance offer leadership of higher educational institutions an additional level of peace of mind when faced with an unexpected, often tragic event, on their campuses. Insurance reimbursement of disruptive event expenditures encourages preparedness, timely response and a path to operational recovery.

-Dawn H. Puro, Senior Vice President, Specialty Casualty, Public Entity Lines,  Ironshore; and Victor Ip, Vice President, Specialty Casualty, Ironshore Canada