Western Washington UniversityEmergency Communications
DATE: July 12, 2013 2:39:29 PM PDT
Emergency FAQ

Western remains active in its efforts to prepare for emergency situations and disasters.  The WWU Emergency Management Committee members, listed at the bottom in Appendix A, continue to meet regularly to evaluate and pursue more effective measures relating to mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.  Below are frequently asked questions about emergencies at Western.

For more information about emergency preparedness at Western, visit the website for the Environmental Health and Safety committee.

What should I do if I am concerned about a threat or unusual behavior that I have observed?

Individuals who are concerned about a person’s behavior, either personally or to the campus in general, even if no violence or threat of violence has occurred, should call the “SAFE” Campus phone number:

SAFE Campus Phone Number: (360) 650-SAFE or 650-7233

Trained personnel screen the information provided and forward it to Western’s Safety Assessment Team or appropriate university office.  This helps campus professionals evaluate students and others who may be exhibiting behavior that is reason for concern. 

How will Western communicate with me in the event of an emergency?

Western will use its integrated Western Alert system to communicate with the university community during times of emergency to provide on-going information in a timely way.  Multiple ways of communicating are used as this is a best practice in disseminating information quickly and effectively. Western Alert includes the following approaches:

Steam whistle alert

The steam whistle, Big Ole, located on top of the Steam Plant, will sound upon the identification of an emergency that affects the campus community and requires immediate response.  Big Ole is a way to reach individuals outside on most of the main campus. Upon hearing the Big Ole whistle, individuals should seek information in the form of text messages, email messages, and/or on the Western emergency website: emergency.wwu.edu or the Western homepage, wwu.edu.

Email messages

Emergency emails will be sent to all Western official email addresses describing the nature of the emergency.


Information will be disseminated on the emergency.wwu.edu website, which is hosted at an external location.  This system will still function even if university servers are down.  The same external system hosts the text message and email communication systems.  The servers should be able to function nationwide despite local emergencies or disasters.  If that webpage is unavailable, go to the Western homepage: http://www.wwu.edu/.

Facebook and Twitter

Information sent to campus will automatically go to Western’s Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Text messages

Upon the recognition of an emergency requiring rapid action for safety, a text message will immediately be sent to cell phones for the university community.  The Emergency Management Committee has crafted message contents to provide clear instructions. 

A limitation of the system’s text messaging is that the text messages appear to be FROM a random number (e.g. 53430 or another similar number, not a phone number); the FROM field does not state that it is from Western.  The text within the message clarifies that the message is being sent from Western and is an important Western Alert.  If you are in doubt about the authenticity of the text message, you can consult the emergency.wwu.edu website, which will provide up-to-date information. 

To date, 93% of students, 59% of staff, and 52% of faculty have provided their cell phone numbers to Web4U to receive emergency text messages. 

Many parents of students and general community members have signed-up on the emergency.wwu.edu website to receive emergency information.

Text messaging methods are not error-free.  It is expected to take 10 minutes for all messages to be received; however, cell service providers can sometimes delay message delivery.  However, texting remains a highly useful method of rapid contact when used in conjunction with other communication techniques.  It is anticipated that as long as some people within an area receive an emergency message, they will be able to spread the word to people who have not yet received the message.

Those currently not using text messaging are encouraged to become accustomed to it.  In many disaster scenarios, texting is the most effective method of disseminating information, as it requires less signal strength for transmission and reception than a cell call. 

Building Enunciation

The building enunciation system sends emergency voice messages to the campus through fire alarm speakers.  Enunciation capability exists within fire systems in all academic and administrative buildings, some residence halls, the Wade King Student Recreation Center and the Viking Union.


If technological communication devices fail, campus information will be disseminated via town criers or using loudspeakers available in university police vehicles.

Notification Process

The university police chief and university communications director or designees broadcast a Western Alert immediately and without delay based on the safety of our community unless responsible authorities determine that notification will compromise efforts to assist victims or significantly mitigate an emergency.  Western Alerts may only go to a segment of the community that is affected, such as a floor or building. 

When is the Western Alert system tested?

Testing of the Western Alert system occurs at least twice per year.  Generally, testing occurs in the spring and fall quarters.  A test of the Western Alert system includes the following:

      1. Activation of the Big Ole steam whistle,
      2. Sending email messages to every employee and student,
      3. Sending text messages to all cell phones that have registered for Western Alerts.
      4. Activating the building enunciation system
      5. Putting emergency information on the emergency.wwu.edu website
      6. Putting information on Western’s Facebook page and Twitter feed

Prior to the test, Western provides notification information about it, including the date and time.

What do I do in the event of an emergency?

Ahead of Any Emergency: 

    • View the Western emergency video available at emergency.wwu.edu (scroll down on this web-page) or on YouTube at this link.
    • Review the information in the WWU Emergency Response Guide regarding emergencies of varying kinds.  Employees should hang a paper copy of the guide in a visible location for quick reference.  Contact Environmental Health and Safety for a copy if you have not received one.  Copies should be posted in classrooms.
    • Faculty may wish to review the page in the above guide regarding classroom information in an emergency.
    • Every employee should be aware of your departmental emergency plan.
    • Keep your emergency wallet card with important Western emergency contact numbers with you.
    • Back up your work-related information so you can retrieve it even if you cannot return to your workplace.
    • Evaluate the spaces you frequent and know where to drop, cover and hold in an earthquake.
    • Know two exit routes from your office and the classrooms in which you are teaching.  Floor plans are on the Facilities Development website.
    • Have emergency supplies at work and at home including personal medications.  Personal 72-hour kits are considered the minimum.  The AS Bookstore sells pre-made emergency kits.  Check out: http://www.emd.wa.gov/preparedness/prep_index.shtml, http://www.ready.gov/
    • First aid and CPR training is available free to campus employees.  Call the Environmental Health and Safety office to sign up or access the WWU training website at http://west.wwu.edu/training/.  Students may contact Prevention and Wellness Services regarding training.
    • If you have not already, sign up for emergency text messages by providing your cell phone number at:  http://www.wwu.edu/web4u.  If you are an employee, you may also call Human Resources and ask them to sign up your cell phone.
    • Include becoming emergency ready as a part of your life.  Whatcom County provides Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. FEMA’s ready.gov site has many suggestions and resources as well.

During or after an emergency:

  • Follow the guidance in the WWU Emergency Response Guide for the type of emergency occurring.
  • For example, if you feel an earthquake, drop, cover and hold.  When and if it is safe, exit the building, gather at your building meeting location or at a major disaster meeting location.
  • Evacuate immediately if the fire alarm sounds.  In classrooms, instruct students to calmly gather coats and books and exit slowly and with order.  Gather at your Building/Department Assembly Point.
  • As discussed earlier, a Western Alert communication will be activated in the event of a major emergency.  If the Big Ole steam whistle sounds, seek information on your university email, cell phone text message and/or WWU emergency website.
  • Following a major disaster, go to one of the three Disaster Assembly Points:
    • Old Main lawn,
    • The south campus oval by the Communications Facility, or
    • The tennis courts at South College Drive and Bill McDonald Parkway.
  • Bring your personal and departmental emergency supplies to assist in caring for yourself and our community.
  • If you know first aid and CPR, assist with caring for any injured.

How will WWU respond to campus needs during and immediately following an emergency?

  • Western has a detailed Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan to address emergencies and disasters on campus.  Over 80 copies of the Plan are disseminated across the campus.  The Plan is also stored on selected servers and flash drives available to the administration.  This document is not available on the web due to the sensitive nature of some material.  Contact the Environmental Health and Safety office for information.
  • Western has an Emergency Response Team as well as The Network Group (which discusses student issues and concerns and identifies potential threats of violence) and the Safety Assessment Team (which identifies, assesses and manages situations indicating violent or potentially violent behaviors by any individual or groups affecting Western personnel).
  • The Emergency Response Team participates in annual training to ensure that its response will be well planned and integrated with the greater Bellingham community. 
  • Western bases its responses on priorities identified in the university’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan. These include:
    • Eliminate major threats to life and safety
    • Preserve property and the environment
    • Maintain continuity of educational activities
    • Restore essential systems and services
    • Restore the residential living programs

In the event of an emergency, how will Western’s Emergency Response Team communicate and work and with the larger Bellingham community?

WWU Emergency Response Team - text-to-voice messages

    • The communications system that hosts the emergency website and sends Western Alert text and email messages places automated phone calls to WWU’s emergency response team.  The phone calls include information converted from text to voice to reduce delays in the release of messages.
    • Phone trees are available to administrators for the campus that are updated at least annually.

City of Bellingham and Whatcom County Emergency Responders

    • Phone, text and text-to-voice options described above may be used to contact City and County emergency responders, depending on the nature of the situation.
    • Western has an 800 megahertz radio located at the Campus Services Building, which serves as Western’s Emergency Operations Center to communicate and coordinate with the city’s incident command system if other communication methods fail.  
    • Western participates in the Local Emergency Planning Committee, a county-wide group that meets regularly to plan for and coordinate responses to all-hazards emergencies.
    • Plans are in place to communicate in emergencies with external media sources and to work with them productively on campus.
    • Western has participated in countywide joint communications systems exercises for coordinated emergency communications.
    • Western personnel serve on the community-wide Incident Management Team in a variety of capacities.  

What measures are in place to help prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies?

Threats and Violence

    • Western’s Safety Assessment Team, which includes law enforcement, mental health professionals, medical professionals and others, identifies, assesses and manages situations that point towards probable or possible violent behaviors by individuals or groups.
    • University Police are available to train campus departments or groups about violent behaviors.  They provide two types of training: what to do during an active shooter scenario and recognizing and responding to behaviors of concern. The behaviors video is available at this link.
    • Campus community members who have concerns related to domestic violence are encouraged to consult the Human Resources’ domestic violence website that includes relevant contacts and links, applicable policies and useful information.

Other Types of Emergencies

    • Green coat escorts are available at University Police, (360) 650-3555.
    • Personal safety brochures and posters are available from University Police or Environmental Health and Safety.
    • The Employee Assistance Program is a benefit for employees.  The Human Resources Department arranges this state service that provides free, confidential and professional assistance.
    • A WWU Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan is available and updated.
    • Individual departments summarize their emergency preparations in the WWU Safety Information Book, Section 2.  Many departments have completed these departmental and building emergency plans.
    • A half-time, permanent fire safety auditor checks facilities to enhance WWU’s fire prevention efforts.
    • Fire drills are performed annually.
    • Selected WWU personnel received National Incident Management System (NIMS) training, and regularly collaborate with City emergency responders and others.
    • Exterior emergency call boxes with blue lights at night are located across campus.
    • The WWU Emergency Response Guide has been distributed to employees and is on-line.
    • New staff employees receive the guide, emergency and fire protection information during an initial, on-line orientation.  New faculty members receive the guide and fliers with information.
    • Wallet-sized cards with emergency information and phone numbers are distributed to employees.

How is WWU working to increase the awareness of safety and emergency procedures among the campus community before the event of an emergency?

  • The website emergency.wwu.edu provides emergency information as well as information related to emergency situations and Western’s emergency video (scroll down on the main page).  Under the News and Information tab, an on-line version of the WWU Emergency Response Guide and other related information are available.
  • Western has web-based emergency planning information available. 
  • Western’s policy website includes all approved policies.  Policy U5615.01 is Responding to Campus Violence or Threats of Violence.  Policy U5950.03 is the Emergency Management Policy.  Policy U5400.04 is Suspending University Operations.
  • Department heads review emergency information with their staff members at least annually.
  • New staff employee orientations include a review of emergency information. 
  • New faculty packets include emergency information.

Appendix A

Western Emergency Management Committee




David Bover

Associate Dean, College of Sciences and Technology

Kathleen Culver

Special Assistant to the Vice President for University Advancement

Paul Cocke

Director of University Communications and Marketing

John Furman

Director of Facilities Management

Emily Gibson

Medical Director

Rebekah Green

Associate Director, The Resilience Institute

Becky Kellow

Manager, Treasury Services

John Lawson

Vice Provost for Information Technology, Academic Affairs Representative

William Managan

Assistant Director for Operations, Facilities Management

Sally McKechnie

Business Services Director

Scott Miles

Faculty, Environmental Studies and Director, The Resilience Institute

Teresa Mroczkiewicz

Financial Services Director

Paul Mueller

Risk Manager

Darin Rasmussen

Assistant Director of Public Safety

Martin Reed

Associate Director, University Residences Facilities

David Sattler

Faculty, Psychology Department

Katie Savinski

Associated Students Vice President for Student Life

Gayle Shipley, chair

Environmental Health and Safety Director

Michael Sledge

Assistant Dean of Students

Randy Stegmeier

Public Safety Director, Business and Financial Affairs Representative

Jonah Stinson

Project-Based Research Associate and Emergency Management Program Specialist, grant

Brian Sullivan

Asst. Vice President, Business and Financial Affairs

Sara Wilson

Special Assistant to the VP for Enrollment and Student Services, Enrollment and Student Services Representative

Chyerl Wolfe-Lee

Assistant VP for Human Resources

Holly Woll-Salkeld

Emergency Management Program Specialist

Ray Wolpow

Faculty and Chair, Secondary Education

Jeff Wright

Dean, College of Sciences and Technology



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