Ep. 06 Recent Incidents

Appalachian State University Emergency Planner and host Debi Trivette welcomes Jason Marshburn, Appalachian's Director of Environmental Health, Safety and Emergency Management and Emergency Manager, for a discussion about recent incidents that Appalachian State Emergency Management has been involved in.


Debi Trivette: Thank you so much for joining us today for our sixth podcast episode about Emergency Management at Appalachian State University. I am Debi Trivette, the Emergency Planner for Appalachian State and we have a special guest for today's episode my director, Jason Marshburn, who is not only the director of Environmental, Health, Safety and Emergency Management but he is also the Emergency Manager for Appalachian State. Jason will be talking to us about recent incidents that Appalachian State Emergency Management has been involved in. Thank you for joining us Jason.

Jason Marshburn: Happy to be here.

DT: So, what's been going on?

JM: Lots, weather; weather is probably the big thing we think about and see and experience the most. Probably the most notable thing that's happened over the past year has been the big winter storm that we saw back in December, on December eighth.

DT: Yeah, what did that intel?

JM: Lots of snow, so Boone saw some record snowfall during that event. We saw anywhere between 18 and 24 inches of snow depending on where you were in town or the county. So, that obviously lead to lots of challenges that we had to work through.

DT: Why is that a big deal? We are in the mountains after all.

JM: That's a good question, so that amount of snow presents a challenge anywhere right. We gotta think about how we're gonna travel, and how we're gonna move around, and what impacts that volume of snow can have on our infrastructure. And not only the impacts it can have but what are we gonna do with it. Gotta be able to plow it, and move it, and have somewhere to put it. And those are all challenging things especially when you start looking at the mountain environment; so, we've got hills and steep drop-offs and valleys and all these things that complicate the response to winter storms.

DT: Hmm, aren't most students already on campus so it really wouldn't matter anyway?

JM: So when we look at campus and our population we do have a good number of students that live on campus but we have a larger number of students that live off campus out in the community and when we start thinking about other community members that are apart of Appalachian then we bring in our faculty and our staff and they live off campus. So when we start thinking about how that impacts campus and how that impacts our operations, we have a large percentage of our population that has to travel to and from campus each day so any type of winter storm, especially one that brings us close to 2 feet of snowfall, is gonna have a significant impact on our ability to get operations moving.

DT: So, how soon when we know that a weather event might come do we start making decisions concerning what we are gonna do about classes or snow removal or any of those things?

JM: So, we have a plan in place, and I think that's a good starting point. We have a comprehensive plan in place and that outlines the university's response measures to any type of event that may happen. So, with weather specifically, we've got a process in place to look at not only how we would respond to that but how we're going to prepare for winter weather events. Part of that preparedness and then kind of transitioning into response is looking at and evaluating those weather hazards on a regular basis; we look at weather every day. So, once we start identifying that we may see a potential impact to campus and that could be a day out, it could be over a week out just depending on the type of weather that's gonna impact campus and how much forecast notice we're given. We start having conversations then, so as soon as we identify a potential impact, we start having conversations then. So, we start talking about, alright what's scheduled for that particular day or that particular time period? Do we have classes scheduled? Do we have special events scheduled? Do we have both scheduled? What do we need to start thinking about as far as rescheduling or what those impacts may be? So, we start as soon as we recognize there is a potential hazard.

DT: So that snow storm; did we have things that we needed to alter?

JM: That snow storm came at a very interesting time, as I'm sure most will remember, it fell during final exams or it started right at the start of final exams. So, one of the questions that we started discussing, as early as late November, was what could the impacts be to final exams and we started making some decisions. So, university and leadership started discussing; okay if we do see this volume of snow fall, what will that mean? What do we need to do for final exams and what other events may it impact? So, final exams were probably the main impact that we saw from a scheduling standpoint and ultimately ended up rescheduling some of those exams due to that winter storm.

DT: What other kinds of things been going on that emergency management's been involved in?

JM: So, we think about mountains we think about winter storms probably the most, we know it snows in the mountains. One thing that people don't think about sometimes is flooding. Believe it or not it can flood in the mountains and our flooding is a little different than what you would see off the mountain; but nonetheless water is water and water is dangerous. So, we're always looking at flooding and we've seen our fair share of rain over the past year, maybe a little over a year now. It's been very wet, so we've seen a lot of different flood events. Part of our flooding can come from tropical systems. So, again when people think about mountains they don't always think about a hurricane or tropical system impacting the mountains but this past year we not only saw hurricane Florence, but we saw hurricane Michael impact our area as well. So, that brought a lot of rain and even some wind. So, those are two events that we looked at very closely from a flooding standpoint and the impacts to campus.

DT: Do we do other things other than weather?

JM: All kinds of stuff; so really any type of emergency or incident that could impact campus we look at, we plan for, and we help coordinate the response to. So, gas leaks, some people may remember getting an alert; hopefully they are signed up to receive the AppState Alert messages; but they may remember getting an alert for a gas leak during the semester. And so that is just one example of a different type of emergency that's not necessarily related to weather.

DT: And do we support the county or the town or any of those folks if there's something?

JM: Absolutely, we want to be a good community partner and we wanna be able to support partnering agencies. They, of course, provide us support during certain emergencies and we wanna be able to support them as well. So, it may be a missing person that we're providing support for or it could be a weather-related incident that maybe is not impacting campus but maybe it is impacting another area and we're able to provide support. So, any number of things we can help provide support to the local community on.

DT: What about special events, is emergency management ever involved in those?

JM: Yes, there are several events throughout the year, I'm sure many of our listeners today go to football games, for example. So, those are at least 6 large events that the campus holds each year and now maybe a 7th event. So, we coordinate all the activities around that event to make sure that the spectators have a fun and safe experience.

DT: And concerts that we would be involved in on the planning side?

JM: Yes, so we look at concerts, we look at commencement - commencement is another large event that we see during the year and there may be a host of other special events that occur. Maybe it's a large meeting, maybe it's a special showcase of a performance, or something that draws a large crowd. So, any event that draws a large crowd, or has the potential to have some impact to operations, or just needs a lot of coordination, our office would step in and help coordinate the event plans and then certainly help coordinate the event itself.

DT: Is emergency management involved in any sort of training exercises or anything like that?

JM: Training and exercising are two very important elements of a successful emergency management program but beyond that they are two successful pieces to have in a prepared community. So yes, we wanna make sure and we do offer several training opportunities throughout the year and we offer several exercise opportunities throughout the year and we encourage everyone to participate in those. The best way to be prepared is to take time before something happens to think about it and so the more you engage in training, the more you engage in exercises the better. So, we offer those things we want to see the community participate in them.

DT: So, do we do anything with building specific stuff on campus?

JM: Yes, so each building has a building emergency team and they have a plan that goes along with that. And as you're familiar with, there are a lot of trainings and programs that go on with those teams specifically. That really helps get people in place quickly should something should happen in a building or even throughout campus that's gonna impact multiple buildings and ensures that we have people that are in place quickly that can help provide some initial guidance to those that are in the building.

DT: And can you tell us a little bit about our Emergency Management Task Force?

JM: So, we've got a great team on campus that's called the Emergency Management Task Force or EMTF for short. That team is comprised of several key leaders from across campus that provide response rolls or provide resource capabilities during significant events. So, that team helps plan for emergencies. They meet on a regular basis; they talk through different planning topics and plans and so forth and then they certainty help respond to the situations depending on what the scenario is.

DT: Do we have an emergency operations center on campus?

JM: Yes, so during these large events or these large incidents, they take a lot of coordination, there's a lot of moving parts that go on. What people traditionally see the lights, and the sirens, is normally just a very small part of the bigger picture. So, on the backend we maintain an emergency operations center and its staff with trained individuals that practice throughout the year and those individuals are tasked with helping coordinate all those different moving parts and all the activities that are going on for that incident. So, we have plans in place to support that, we've got a team in place to support the emergency operation center function and then we obviously have a facility in which we meet and make things happen.

DT: So, on a larger picture, do we support our sister institutes and how does that work?

JM: Yes, so the UNC System is a very comprehensive system. We work together closely, and we make sure that we provide support to each other during times of need. So, you know some situations do require outside resources, and so we are able to go out and help not only our sister institutes and the UNC System, but we can certainly help other colleges, and universities and community colleges that are in the state.

DT: Is there anything else you'd like to share about our emergency management program?

JM: I think that you kinda asked the question but I think the main thing is, you know, we work every day to develop preparedness materials and offer trainings and exercises and we really hope all of our students, faculty, and staff take advantage of the resources that are available. We wanna make sure that people feel comfortable and prepared should an emergency happen and we wanna make sure that people are engaged and take advantage of what we have to help them.

DT: Thank you very much Jason, for joining us today and thank you for listening in on this episode and please join us again for next month's episode. For more information about emergency management go to our website emergency.appstate.edu and if you have questions please email them to safety@appstate.edu.