Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Sign up for our twice-weekly newsletter!

GW plans for emergencies

Unbeknownst to most students and faculty, GW administrators have simulated 10 emergency situations over the last two years to test the University’s ability to respond to disasters.

Starting in early 2003, GW began a series of exercises based on actual events that could occur in Foggy Bottom, the District or elsewhere in the country.

The exercises allowed select members of the GW community to practice reacting in real time to mock emergencies. During the simulations, administrators monitor the communication between different levels of school officials. They also check to see whether those affected by the crises are following designated contingency plans.

The results are then analyzed and used to improve plans for the University’s response to a real-life disaster.

“We build a scenario that is not probable, but possible … nothing that we exercise against is likely,” said John Petrie, assistant vice president for public safety and emergency management. Petrie said each exercise is designed to “test the validity of the plans” that GW would follow should an actual crisis occur.

“Every one of the scenarios is different … they run the gamut of things that could happen,” Petrie said.

The details of each scenario – which Petrie declined to disclose – is “key to the neighborhood that we live in,” he said, adding that actual residence halls, classes and people may be affected during the course of normal University operations.

The scenarios also utilize GW-specific resources and support staff. One recent exercise included the deployment of University Police vehicles to test their ability to make a campus-wide announcement with speaker systems.

The exercises are designed to occur under conditions that mirror how the University would function on a typical day. On the dates of simulations, officials compile reports beforehand that detail various campus or city happenings that need to be considered by those responding to the crisis.

A command center has been established for some of the exercises where GW’s senior leadership could gather to make decisions in the event of an actual emergency. The unspecified room, which can be rendered fully operational in less than 30 minutes, would serve as the nerve center for information- sharing between top officials and departments that might need to respond in a crisis.

The scenarios also test the technology that would be utilized to facilitate communication between officials and departments during a crisis. Petrie said senior administrators have all been outfitted with Nextel Blackberries, which provide “a useful means of communication 24 hours a day.”

Some departments are already using the portable e-mail devices on a routine, day-to-day basis so that they are fully comfortable using the technology. Some officials have also acquired conference-calling capability that could be assembled in the command center to communicate with colleagues in remote locations.

During the simulations, Petrie’s office constructed mock Campus Advisories Web pages that would be used to communicate with students and staff; the pages include specific information on how to respond to the crisis.

The Campus Advisories Web site,, is the University’s principal means of relaying critical information to all members of the community in the event of an emergency. Petrie also said that up-to-date information is available by dialing 202-994-5050.

GW is not the only university that has been planning for emergencies in the area. Brown University has held similar crisis simulations, and many other schools have developed comprehensive plans that detail how they would respond in the event of a disaster or terrorist attack.

“We have shared information with universities who went through 9/11,” said Petrie, who added that schools across the country have contacted GW to ask for collaboration in forming emergency plans.

GW is also working with a consortium of universities from D.C. and Virginia to adopt plans that might require area schools to coordinate responses to a local crisis.

Petrie said the unique nature of each simulation has brought to light many different factors to consider in future planning.

He said, “We’ve found a way to improve what we’re doing in every event.”

More to Discover
Donate to The GW Hatchet