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Emergency Preparedness Questions and Answers

March 21, 2003

This list of common questions is designed to address concerns that students and their families may have about the possible impact of current national security concerns on the Columbia community.

Is there any reason to feel especially concerned about threats to the Columbia community?

There have been no specific threats or information regarding Columbia University. Nonetheless, we take the general alert seriously, and the safety of students and the entire Columbia community is our foremost concern.

How has the University prepared for emergency situations?

Columbia has emergency procedures in place that are reviewed and reevaluated regularly. In addition, senior administration members are in frequent contact with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to gather the most updated information and advice on how to respond to risks. For large-scale emergencies, government emergency services agencies will have primary responsibility for emergency management. The University has made arrangements for full cooperation and coordination with such agencies.

What measures has Columbia taken to secure its campuses and facilities in light of heightened security concerns?

The University recently augmented security on and around the Manhattan campuses, including at the entrance gates, on-campus parking garages and loading docks. In addition, the New York City Police Department has increased its security in the area near our campuses. Columbia is coordinating emergency procedures with the 26th and 33rd Precincts. Response protocols are in place enabling us to respond immediately to police department directives in the event of an emergency.

What is the University doing to protect students, faculty and staff?

University officials have completed a number of initiatives:

  • Emergency response protocols have been updated and reviewed.
  • Evacuation plans for all University buildings, including residence halls, have been reviewed and updated.
  • Lab security plans have been reviewed and updated in collaboration with the pertinent governmental agencies and the New York City Fire Department.
  • Columbia maintains frequent contact with local, state and federal law enforcement authorities. The New York City Police Department includes University Security personnel in frequent briefings on terrorism and other threats. These sources advise us as to the level of risk and our best plan of action under the circumstances.

What is Columbia's emergency evacuation plan?

Campus buildings have evacuation plans that are triggered by the sounding of fire alarms. Upon evacuating a facility, members of the community will receive instructions from University Security personnel. If there is an emergency that requires that a campus be evacuated, the New York Police Department will be responsible for directing the evacuation. If there is an emergency elsewhere in Manhattan, members of the Columbia Community should remain on campus unless directed otherwise by Campus Security.

How should I report suspicious situations or emergency conditions?

On the Morningside campus call Security at 212-854-2797, 4-5555, or x99;
On the Health Sciences campus call 212-305-7979;
At the Lamont or Nevis campus, call 911.

With whom can individuals talk if they are really concerned and have anxiety about the situation?

Members of Student Affairs, Residential Programs staff, the Class Deans, Counseling and Psychological Services staff (212-854-2878, Morningside), and the Office of the Chaplain (212-854-1493) are all available to assist individuals with concerns on this situation. For psychological services on the Health Sciences campus call 212-496-8491.

Faculty and staff may also utilize the Employee Development Center (EDC), a well-known local provider of confidential counseling and referral services. Short term counseling and referral services are provided at no cost to Columbia faculty and staff. Confidential appointments can be made by calling 212-935-3030, Monday - Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., or 1-800-327-9092 in case of an emergency outside of normal business hours.

In the event of an emergency situation, would students be sent home?

It is unlikely that anyone would have enough warning of a terrorist emergency to evacuate large numbers of people. Any attack is likely to be localized, and in that case we have protocols to deal with a broad spectrum of risks.

How will the Columbia community be notified if the University closes or cancels classes?

The University very rarely closes. However, if it becomes necessary for the safety of our community to close, the University will notify faculty, students and staff through the University Homepage and recorded messages at 212-854-1754. The University will also notify local television and radio stations.

How should students, faculty and staff deal with suspicious packages?

Columbia Mail Services continues to monitor incoming mail, but advises that recipients are in the best position to know if a letter or package addressed to them is suspect. Please remain alert for any signs that might raise concern and report any suspicious package to Security. Security responds promptly to all such reports, turning them over to the NYPD. In each case, the NYPD assesses the situation, makes a determination as to whether a risk is present, and arranges for any necessary testing.

For additional information, including a list of ways to identify a suspicious package, click here.

Where should I turn with questions about biological or chemical agents?

Numerous governmental and non-governmental agencies provide information on biological and chemical agents and terrorism. Informational resources include the Centers for Disease Control Web site and the Mailman School of Public Health's Bioterrorism Fact Sheet.

What should I do if I believe I might have been exposed to a biological or chemical agent?

On the Morningside campus call Security at x99 or x4-5555 from a campus phone or 212-854-2797. Security will deploy emergency medical services immediately. On the Health Sciences campus call 212-305-7979. At the Lamont or Nevis campus, call 911.

There is additional information on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's "Be Ready" Web site.

Will sealing windows with duct tape and plastic help protect me during a bioterrorist attack?

No. A release of a biological agent is most likely to be "covert" -- that is, terrorists will not announce the attack before it happens or afterward. This means that you would not know ahead of time to seal your windows and prevent contaminated air from reaching you. Duct tape and plastic sheeting slow down the movement of air from outside to inside, but do not stop such movement. You should also be aware that using some non-electric space heaters or gas stoves inside such sealed areas can lead to a dangerous build-up of carbon monoxide.

Where can international students go for assistance?

The International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) is an excellent resource for international students and staff. ISSO is located at 524 Riverside Drive, 212-854-3587.

Click to view current travel warnings and announcements from the U.S. Department of State. For visa information, click to view the U.S. Department of State's Visa Services.

How should I respond to law enforcement personnel if they approach me in relation to national or homeland security?

For international students and faculty and other members of the community, to find out more about your rights if a law enforcement or immigration official wishes to speak with you, see the contact list below of organizations that can provide legal advice and assistance if the need arises.

  • Columbia Law School Center for Public Interest Law - (212) 854-3535
  • American Civil Liberties Union - (212) 549-2500
  • American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC) - (202) 244-2990
  • Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF) - (212) 966-5932
  • Center for Constitutional Rights - (212) 614-6464
  • National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild - (617) 227-9727
  • New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) - (212) 344-3005
  • U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (UCCR) - (800) 552-6843

Published: Mar 21, 2003
Last modified: Apr 08, 2003

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