Why we didn’t issue a warning

Mark Bagby | Op-Ed Submission

Many university emergency management officials across the country continuously are asked questions from their university community about why they did or why they did not issue an emergency alert due to some incident on or off-campus. I would like the opportunity to clarify why the University chose not to send out an alert message via the WUSTLAlerts system in reference to the severe weather that occurred in the St. Louis area on April 24, 2010.

WUSTL’s Campus Operations/Emergency Management Office was in constant consultation with WUPD during Saturday’s storm and made the decision not to issue a University-wide text message or an e-mail through the WUSTLAlerts system. Also, since an alert was not sent, we did not feel the need to post anything to the emergency.wustl.edu website or emergency hotline (935-9000). I am sure that we can be second-guessed on this one, but here’s the rationale for our decision:

We were watching local news and monitoring the National Weather Service website with constant radar updates showing the storm’s position and the speed at which it was moving. Based on what we were seeing, it appeared that the storm path did not include the University. Because it was moving so quickly and not tracking toward the University, we did not feel that we could adequately get a University-wide notification out before the storm would have passed.

We were also advised by WUPD that the outdoor warning sirens had sounded on campus (as well as in STL County and St. Louis City). Our primary concern at the moment was for those who would have been outside attending events, such as the ThurtenE Carnival. WUPD advised us that those who had been at the carnival had been evacuated to nearby buildings (per the Carnival’s emergency plan) and were safe.

St. Louis County controls the activation of our sirens. It is their policy to activate the sirens whenever a tornado warning is issued for St. Louis County or for an adjacent county. Their activation policy can be viewed at http://www.co.st-louis.mo.us/police/oem/siren_1.html.

As you hopefully know, there is information on the University’s emergency website (http://emergency.wustl.edu) and included in our Where to Go materials about how to respond to severe weather warnings. In addition, our Office of Residential Life provides information twice a year to all students living on campus regarding the proper procedures to follow in the event of severe weather. We also provide a reminder about severe weather on the emergency website in the spring during Severe Weather Week each year. We will be adding a severe weather reminder to http://emergency.wustl.edu on Monday.

I was pleased to note that, based on the reports that I have heard, many different parts of the University acted quickly and properly to the tornado alert: Those attending the ThurtenE Carnival were evacuated to nearby buildings (Whitaker and Givens/Steinberg Hall), those in Olin Library were directed to the lowest level of the building by library staff, Resident Advisers and Residential College Directors advised students in our residence halls to go to the lowest level of the building, and those attending a social function on the South 40 were moved to an interior hallway.

As always, we will be reviewing our policies and procedures with our senior emergency management team. I appreciate your input, your suggestions and concerns.

Mark Bagby is the Emergency Management Coordinator for Campus Operations. He can be reached via e-mail at bagbym@wustl.edu

  • anonymous

    I am from the Northeast and had never heard a tornado alarm before. I spent the majority of the tornado on the top floor of my building complaining about the annoying ambulance siren or fire alarm across campus that was keeping me from studying. It wasn’t until I logged onto Facebook half an hour later and saw tornado-related statuses that I knew what was going on. Facebook should not be responsible for my safety; an e-mail or text message letting me know what was going on would have been very beneficial.