EMERGENCY RESPONSE OSU has plan if tragedy strikes Wednesday, April 25, 2007 3:40 AM By Encarnacion Pyle THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH An Ohio State University official said the school can alert as many as 60,000 students and staff members within 45 minutes of an emergency, but he warned state leaders not to overreact to the Virginia Tech massacre. "With tragedies like these, we need to look at the unique circumstances of each, without necessarily changing everything about how we respond to emergencies," Richard Hollingsworth, OSU's vice president of student affairs, told college trustees at a statewide conference yesterday. The Ohio Board of Regents added a campus safety panel to its annual trustees' conference after Virginia Tech's response to last week's shootings was scrutinized nationally. Critics accused the university of waiting two hours on April 16 before telling students about the first attack in a residence hall. Later that day, gunman Seung-Hui Cho, a student, killed 30 of his 32 victims before shooting himself in an academic building. Most colleges have crisis-response plans that are updated frequently and address such issues as natural disasters and hostage situations, said Bob Armstrong, Ohio State's emergency preparedness and disaster coordinator. Each campus uses various methods, including e-mails, phone calls and text messages, to alert students. "We can probably contact 80 to 90 percent of campus within 20 to 30 minutes using the 15 different ways available to use," Armstrong said. "Word of mouth is a huge part of it." It took Ohio State less than 30 minutes after canceling classes during a nasty snowstorm in February to get the word out using its Web site, a newspaper's site and radio and television alerts, he said. To reach students and professors who aren't near phones or computers, Ohio State is exploring adding recorded voice messages to its tornado sirens, Armstrong said. To ensure all of the state's schools have good plans for emergencies, Gov. Ted Strickland has asked Board of Regents Chancellor Eric D. Fingerhut to form a task force. Representatives from more than 50 colleges have asked to participate. At Miami University, police officers train and work closely with city and township police, Chief John McCandless said. "Individually, we're small police departments, but collectively we're strong," he said. Although the school, city and township have created a SWAT team, the university trains its officers not to wait for SWAT authorities if a gunman is shooting at bystanders. That's a change many police departments nationwide made after the attack at Columbine High School in 1999. "We've all done training for a myriad of incidents," McCandless said. "There isn't a one-plan-fits-all solution." While authorities formulate plans to respond in a crisis, campus counselors and social workers work to prevent such an incident. Most of the time, they help students balance school, work and relationships, but they're also trained to work with students struggling with mental illness, said Carol Yoken, director of counseling services at the University of Cincinnati. "Nationwide, 25 percent of students are on medication and participate in counseling; 10 to 12 percent have bipolar disorder; and I'd guess 30 to 40 percent have significant depression," Yoken said. "But across the board, college counseling centers are underfunded and understaffed."