Sept. 11 informed USC’s emergency response plan

Sept. 11, 2001, impacted everyone’s lives, and it drove the USC administration to refine the university’s all-hazards response and recovery plan.

As events unfolded on Sept. 11, the university activated its emergency response plan, not knowing whether Los Angeles was in danger or whether any students had been affected.

“There were rumors and speculation at the time that a plane would be coming and would be doing the same thing in L.A.,” Senior Associate Dean for Student Affairs Lynette Merriman said. “We were prepared to bring all students onto campus and shelter them as best as we could, if that’s what we needed to do.”

Part of the responsibility of the USC Office of Fire Safety and Emergency Planning is to examine every building on campus where students can safely find refuge, such the Lyon Center, the Davidson Conference Center and the Galen Center, Merriman said. The office also works to secure enough food and emergency supplies in case of crisis.

Merriman noted, however, that shelter and food were not her first concerns.

“My first thought was, to be honest, ‘Oh my gosh, I wonder if any of our students lost anyone. We need to see if anybody did,’” she said, describing the frightening moments in 2001, right after she saw the second plane hit the North Tower on TV.

Student Affairs sent out emails to students from the areas where the planes hit, asking if everyone’s family was safe and if the administration could help in any way. They also assigned Student Affairs administrators to talk to students in several buildings on campus, helping the USC community cope with the attacks, Merriman said.

Since Sept. 11, the university has made several changes to its emergency plan. It has created a Community Emergency Response Team program, which is composed of staff and faculty who receive extensive training on search and rescue, fire suppression, first aid, earthquake preparedness and incident command, said Steve Goldfarb, USC fire safety and emergency planning specialist.

Moreover, the university has acquired resources like emergency food supplies, water filtration capabilities, disaster medical supplies and tools, a small pumper in case of fires and hazardous materials response equipment, Goldfarb said.

After every unexpected event or emergency, the university revises its plan, always striving for improvement.

After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, for instance, Tulane University administrators came to USC to talk about the obstacles they faced during the hurricane. As a result of the visit, USC learned it was necessary to contract with an emergency company so that in the event of a disaster, the university will be quickly assisted in putting buildings back to work, Merriman said.

But the university also wants to make sure students are aware of what to do in emergency situations. Student Affairs gives presentations every summer during freshman orientation, instructing entering students and their families about USC’s emergency plan, which can also be found online, Merriman said.

In addition, USC will be offering an Emergency Preparedness Fair on Sept. 21, where there will be emergency supplies for sale, as well as information on emergency preparedness and several demonstrations for emergency situations, Goldfarb said.

Most students say they think they would know what to do in case of an emergency, but they would like to be notified about the specific procedures they should follow.

“Notification and communication are our best friends,” said Eric Burse, a junior majoring in broadcast journalism and political science.