AU School of Public Service and Administration and county hosted forum featuring international security experts

January 30, 2017

AU School of Public Service and Administration and county hosted forum featuring international security experts

By Richard Breen

The room at Anderson Civic Center fell silent, except for the sound of a 9-1-1 recording from Aurora, Colorado, just past midnight on July 20, 2012.

As the air crackled with radio transmissions from operators and first responders, Pat Conroy pointed out the series of split-second decisions and other factors that contributed to lives being saved during what turned out to be one of the worst mass shootings in American history.

“You can’t train, exercise and drill enough,” said Conroy, who is responsible for emergency preparedness and safety at UCHealth System at University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora. “Collaboration and partnership are critical.”

Whether it’s a natural disaster or an active shooter incident, emergency responders and other professionals must rely on training and decision-making ability to protect their community. More than 100 of those professionals gathered in Anderson last semester for the Preparedness and Resilience Summit.

The event was sponsored by Anderson University and Anderson County, as well as by AnMed Health. AU and the county take collaboration to heart in that AU’s bachelor’s degree program in emergency services management and bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in criminal justice are housed in the same building as the Anderson County Emergency Operations Center.

“It’s a unique opportunity for our faculty and our students,” said Howard Murphy, assistant professor and coordinator of the Bachelor of Emergency Services Management degree program at AU.

A diverse slate of world-recognized speakers was assembled, most of whom supported the summit pro bono. Many are colleagues of Murphy and other AU faculty.

“He was my student and has come to be my very good friend,” said Dr. Isaac Ashkenazi, professor of disaster medicine at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel. Ashkenazi and Murphy visited Brazil to help communities with emergency preparedness for the Summer Olympics. “There are not many universities in the U.S. that are working with international experts.”

Ashkenazi gave several presentations, including one that urged communities to better empower bystanders during emergencies.

“Bystanders are the most important actors in a crisis,” Ashkenazi said, because they are likely at the scene before emergency responders. He said a culture which acknowledges and encourages bystanders is key to community resiliency.

“You can’t be resilient unless you’ve been exposed to adversity,” he said.

Murphy said community resiliency involves three steps: understanding and preparing for threats, acting in such a way during a crisis as to mitigate cascading system failures, and bouncing back culturally and economically as quickly as possible.

Conroy, who headed the emergency command center at his hospital in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting, spoke on incident management. Cardiovascular thoracic surgeon Dr. Raj Lal spoke on the culture of safety and responsibility.

Another speaker, Dr. Reuven Bar-On, a leading researcher on emotional intelligence, has been collaborating with Murphy and Dr. Tim Turner, dean of AU’s School of Public Administration. Murphy has also contributed to books by another speaker, homeland security expert Dr. Michael Fagel.

Other presentations and exercises covered subjects from media relations and social media to explosives and suicide bombers.

“Emergency management is very holistic,” Murphy said. “Because of the range of topics, there was something for everyone.”

AU students were also in attendance during the week.

Conroy said that while natural disasters are sometimes place-specific in terms of likelihood, active-shooter incidents can happen anywhere.

“People are taking it very seriously,” he said. “They are thirsting for tools to be better prepared.”