In June 2005, Bowdoin Security officials discovered that a suspicious white van had crashed near Dayton Arena. At the time, Brunswick police were on the lookout for a white van, and as they were investigating, two gunmen were reported to have entered Dayton Arena. As the situation escalated, Bruce Boucher, the director of security at the time, walked through a supposed plume of toxic gas and was pronounced dead on the scene.
Overseeing this scenario was a group of administrators and staff gathered in Daggett Lounge, adjacent to Thorne Hall. The group constituted Bowdoin's emergency management team, and they were working to keep the situation under control as events unfolded.
The situation was a test?a mock scenario that gave officials experience with Bowdoin's emergency response protocols. The lessons learned from the scenario have helped the College improve its elaborate strategy for responding to emergencies. And the College is now just beginning to phase in a powerful communications tool that can reach the entire campus in seconds.
The public version of Bowdoin's emergency response plan, refined after the 2005 scenario, is a terse, 18-page document that contains guidelines for "emergency preparedness," "first response," "crisis management," and "recovery." The document could be used in a crisis situation similar to Monday's tragedy at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
According to Mark Fisher, manager of environmental health and safety, the plan uses the specialized knowledge of different departments and divisions within the school, "managed through this core document."
The response plan uses a system developed by the government, the National Incident Management System, that provides a structure within which unique protocols for specific situations are followed.
For example, the health center has an epidemic response policy, Dayton Arena has response procedures for ammonia leaks (related to the rink's cooling system), and Dining Service has protocols for issues with food service.
"It plays to and utilizes the strengths of each part of the team for an efficient and effective response," said Director of Safety and Security Randy Nichols. "What the plan does is bring the components together in a coordinated fashion."
"I like to call it an 'all-hazards' plan," Nichols added.
According to Fisher, the response plan has never been implemented outside of mock scenarios, although the College came close to using it in response to severe weather and this fall's staph infection diagnoses.
The College is also just beginning to implement a new emergency notification system, Connect-ED.
According to Chief Information Officer Mitch Davis, Connect-ED allows campus officials to send mass e-mail, phone messages, and text messages in seconds. Every student, faculty, and staff member will have up to six phone numbers and two e-mail addresses stored in Connect-Ed's database, and in the event of an emergency, officials can send messages to each one.
The system is remotely hosted, so the College doesn't have to protect or maintain a server. In the event that campus computers are inaccessible, Connect-ED is accessible by cellular phone.
The system is currently operational (students received a test e-mail on Wednesday), though Information Technology (IT) is currently working to update its databases, and ultimately students will be able to choose their primary telephone number and e-mail address. Parents' contact information will also be incorporated in the future, Nichols said.
Nichols demonstrated the power of Connect-ED by instructing the system to send a pre-recorded telephone message to an Orient reporter. It took 15 seconds between when Nichols clicked "confirm" on his computer screen's Web browser, and when the cell phone started ringing.
According to Davis, the College has also entered into an agreement with Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles that would provide backup for each College's important electronic operations, and allow them to continue even if an emergency disabled computers and servers on campus.
Bowdoin will provide the same service for Loyola Marymount.
He said that the project would be completed in two years, and that the collaboration would save the College thousands of dollars each month in contrast to a remote hosting system.
Though emergency response and planning make up an important component of the College's preparedness, officials said crisis prevention?especially preventing situations where a psychologically disturbed student undertakes violent action?is also important to ensuring that emergencies never occur to begin with.
"It's just a place where there are so many points of connection, and the environment is such that it's hard to be anonymous and fall through the cracks," said Dean of Student Affairs Tim Foster.
"I think this is the type of tragedy that can happen anywhere...though it's less likely to happen at a place like Bowdoin," he added, referring to Monday's shootings at Virginia Tech. "I'd like to think that if someone was as troubled as this young man was that we could have connected with that person, and decided whether that person really was a threat."
In terms of balancing an intervention with privacy and confidentiality, Foster said that "our approach on this is a clear line: Is the person a threat to themselves or others?"
"Because we're small, we're able to be nimble...The anonymity is so much less, and the communications pathways are not as encumbered," he said.
Nichols stressed that members of the community should always feel comfortable to voice their concerns.
"It's all about the alertness and vigilance on the part of every member of the Bowdoin community," he said. "Communicate about things that don't seem right. Never hesitate to pass on those feelings to either a supervisor or someone you trust."
Nichols said that there had been numerous incidents where students had come to Security after noticing suspicious behavior, and that often these hunches were confirmed.
"We're here to respond, but we have to know where and when," Fisher, the environmental health manager, said.