Westmont Magazine In Case of Emergency
When the lights went out at Westmont during the recent power shortage, the college’s crisis response turned on. A subgroup of the Crisis Management Team met to discuss the situation and resolve problems. For example, when students had difficulty finding their rooms in pitch-black hallways, college officials distributed flashlights and batteries and considered putting battery-powered lights in corridors and stairwells.
While Westmont’s emergency plans currently spell out responses to more traditional disasters, the Crisis Management Team is drafting a new document to include situations involving students and faculty participating in off-campus programs. Chaired by Troy Harris ’74, director of procurement, auxiliary services, and risk management, the group includes representatives from administration and finance, student life, security, off-campus programs, campus ministries, public affairs and the president’s office. This summer, members will participate in incident command training to learn how to work with local officials during an emergency.
In case of fire or earthquake, which are more typical California crises, the college has developed detailed emergency plans that tell students, faculty and staff what to do.
A survivor of two major wildfires, Westmont has learned valuable lessons in dealing with this kind of disaster. The 1964 Coyote Fire forced students to evacuate and destroyed Catherwood Hall, a dormitory for men. No students were present during the Sycamore Fire in the summer of 1977, but 400 conference guests had to flee. Fortunately, the blaze never reached the campus.
When a fire breaks out in the area, the fire department uses Westmont as its main fire camp and brings a great deal of equipment to campus. If necessary, fire officials order people to leave, and the vehicles in Westmont’s fleet can provide transportation to East Beach or other designated areas. Fire alarms in each building and security officers with megaphones would sound the alert.
Buildings at Westmont are designed to withstand tremors the size of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. Broken glass and downed utility lines could cause the greatest danger. But it’s also possible that Montecito could be cut off from surrounding areas for up to 72 hours after an earthquake. As a result, the college has taken steps to be self-sufficient.
The dining commons keeps enough dry goods and canned food to last a week or so, and barbecues are available for cooking. The swimming pool and irrigation reservoir provide a good supply of water. Certain campus buildings are designed to be shelters. Generators can provide power to key buildings if the electricity goes out. Supplies and equipment such as first-aid kits are available to meet immediate needs.
Westmont is a founding member of MERRAG (Montecito Emergency Response and Recovery Action Group), which includes the public utilities (sewer, water, and fire) and large institutions in Montecito. This group meets regularly and has established an emergency communication network and command post for the entire Montecito community. Each member will contribute staff and resources during a crisis. MERRAG also maintains a list of local doctors who can provide care during emergencies. Westmont does have its own physician, Dr. David Hernandez. Tom Bauer ’74, director of safety and security, has been very involved with the organization.
Should an emergency arise, officials will be grateful for their careful planning.