Being from the Midwest, it’s not uncommon to hear those words and the infamous alert sound that accompanies them. This is “Tornado Alley”—the area most prone to tornadoes due to the converging air fronts from the Rockies (Colorado) and the Gulf of Mexico. On October 24, 2021, a tornado warning was issued for St. Joseph, MO.
Students living on campus were quite shocked. While almost everyone knows the common dos and don’ts in the event of a tornado, I and several others weren’t quite sure of what the protocols were for where to go on campus. Overall, the events of the day truly showcased how unprepared the campus is when it comes to emergencies.
My intentions are not to bash the college and the many staff members who work to keep campus safe and protected. It is to address the issues and find a way to fix them. It is to showcase to the campus community that it is better to be safe than sorry. Life is so unpredictable, and one never knows what could happen. Having a “better safe than sorry” attitude and a plan of procedures for various situations (severe weather, fire, intruder/active shooter, etc.), could be the one thing that saves a situation from being super tragic.
During the tornado warning, many students were trying to contact their Resident Assistants; some weren’t even on campus at the time. Those who didn’t made sure to contact their residents to ask them what to do and where to go seek shelter. For those residing in Scanlon Hall, myself included, we met inside the lobby with the RAs on duty. The storm was way northeast of campus, however, I was still surprised by how nobody considered taking charge of enforcing safety. One RA on duty at Scanlon Hall really surprised me with the response he gave to me to take charge of the situation. He said, “(RAs) can’t really do anything about this. While we can tell residents where to go, we can’t make them.”
I understand the whole “lead a horse to water, but can’t make them drink” situation, however, as an RA, someone in charge of so many students within their assigned residence buildings, I would try to at least show my residents what the plans are so that they know. One RA, who wished to remain anonymous, described how “they”, felt about the lack of leadership amongst the RAs and their stance on trying to better the situation.
“I would definitely say there is a lot of discrepancy in regards to knowing how to handle these situations (like the tornado event) as an RA. (For one), there aren’t specific hands-on training RAs get in regards to emergency protocols. . . Not all RA’s know what to do as I’ve been told by residents on campus. This ultimately leads students to believe that they are not safe in the residence halls. . . I think students should know how to protect themselves in these emergencies. It is our (res life and RA’s) responsibility to inform students on how to protect themselves.”
After talking with said RA, I was baffled to know that RAs don’t really receive training. It was also stated by the RA that they “work with other professionals to tell them what they do.” I asked Campus PD Chief Jill Voltmer what training they have with Residence life. She responded by stating, “[Campus PD] work together and do training. [As a whole] with all of our resources, [Campus PD] can utilize other agencies in the area [two help with training].
The last person that I interviewed was Mr. Mark White, the new Director of Risk Management. Mr. White was quite helpful in providing some insight as to what the campus does in certain situations. During our interview, Mr. White stated the following about the emergency alert system and the relationships his department has with providing information and training to campus staff and students.
“The old system and plan [currently in use] is not super old. I will admit that we aren’t there yet on a perfect system, but we are getting there. I (am working on) making it more comprehensible. Before, there hadn’t been a lot of control or communication. Now, I look for opportunities to work with other departments, sort of a “how can you help me." Yes, (organizations) call us. For example, last week, our department worked with local fire departments to talk about fire safety with Residence Life.”
Mr. White went on to state that he is working on the new Office of Risk and Environmental Safety website. As he put it, “[The new website] will have items of information and stories, but [will mainly] focus on protecting life and property, such as providing the campus alerts and other messages onto the website.”
White, when asked if his department was going to do anything for safety awareness weeks, said the following.
“Absolutely, we want to make [the website and department] new and fresh. We want stuff relative to students and the community on the new website. I want to make this a group effort. I want to get back to safety and help students and staff’s lives be safer.”