Kent Booty Associate Editor
More than a year before the Virginia Tech mass-shooting tragedy, Longwood had a full-time employee dedicated to safety and emergency management.
“My job is to think about worst case, about the what-ifs, and to try to protect people from the what-ifs,” said Dan Dillon, director of environmental health and safety and emergency management. “I try to be proactive in my approach to safety and emergency management. But if something happens, we’re trying to effectively manage those incidents and to minimize the life safety and property issues. As Dr. Cormier has said many times, our most important task is the safety and security of our students, faculty and staff.”
Dillon, who has been a state trooper and a firefighter-paramedic, began in March 2006. His “staff,” as he said with a smile, consists solely of himself and newly hired Ray Sears, the fire and life safety officer, who graduated
from Longwood in May 2007. Dillon also works with Ray Heinrich, ’97, director of laboratory services and chemical hygiene officer, who assists with the university’s chemical waste disposal program. Longwood previously had a position devoted primarily to fire safety, held by Randall Johnson, ’01.
“The highlights of my job include fire safety, which applies to our residence halls and all of our facilities, and occupational safety and health,” Dillon said. “For example, if there’s a problem with a sidewalk or lighting or a handrail, or if someone slips and falls, we look at it to see if there is a safety concern that needs to be addressed. We investigate all safety-related incidents on campus, we look at proactive solutions to safety concerns, and we manage the university’s hazardous waste disposal.
“We maintain the emergency communications plan, which is being completely revised and restructured into a series of emergency operations manuals designed to clarify and designate duties and how the university responds to specific incidents or emergencies,” he continued. “There will be a manual for infectious diseases such as pandemic flu, avian flu and MRSA; a manual for weather emergencies including hurricanes, tornadoes, lightning events and snow; a manual for building emergencies such as fires, bomb threats and earthquakes; and a manual for an all-hazards overview that sets the foundation for the emergency operations plan. The emergency operations plan was last revised in 2003.”
One of Dillon’s tasks is fulfilling Executive Order 44, issued in January 2007 by Gov. Tim Kaine, which requires all state agencies to include “emergency preparedness planning, training and promotion as a core component of their mission.” Agencies also have to “create or update Continuity of Operations Plans (COOP) to conform to the template” produced by the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM).
“The COOP initiative addresses the question: ‘How does a university continue to do business during an emergency event, and then afterward how do you return to normal?’” Dillon said. “This is especially critical in areas such as accounting and information technology. COOP will allow us to react appropriately during and after an emergency. The university set up a COOP team made up of representatives from all areas under vice presidential leadership and
the president’s office, and we hired a consulting firm, Beck Disaster Recovery, to help with drafting our plan.”
In August 2007 Longwood submitted a draft of its COOP document to VDEM, which reviewed it and added a few minor recommendations. Longwood will review those recommendations and resubmit the document in spring 2008. Each agency will submit a new document every year.
“We got an overall score of 83, which is excellent,” Dillon said. “We were among the top performers. Most of our deficiencies were the result of not being as specific as we could have been.”
The issue of campus safety and emergency preparedness has received far more public attention since the tragedy of April 16, 2007 in Blacksburg. “As safety professionals, we have always been aware of the importance of the ability to communicate with faculty, staff and students in an emergency,” Dillon said. “Unfortunately, it often takes a tragedy to make people aware of the importance of emergency preparedness.”
Dillon cuts a distinctive figure around campus with his sinewy 6’10” frame, shaved head and friendly habit of calling other men “big guy.” He grew up in Virginia Beach, graduated from Hampden-Sydney College in 1996 and has a master’s degree from the University of Richmond in human resource management, with a focus on strategic planning. He worked as a critical care medic in Farmville for two years, then as a Virginia State Police trooper in Buckingham County for four years, during which he was part of the accident reconstruction team and did search and rescue work, and later was a firefighter-paramedic for the Chesterfield County Fire Department for four years. He is currently taking courses in both tracks of the Virginia Risk Control Institute, which he will finish next spring. Though he snowboards and surfs (in high school he competed in surfing) and is a master diver, the safety specialist denies living dangerously. “I do things on a moderate level. I don’t like crazy stuff,” he said with a smile.