Kirk Driver’s job description can be summed up by one word—worry.
As director of Tarrant County College’s Department of Safety & Emergency Management, worry goes with the territory. But he and his team of seven do their best to take the worry out of calamity by honing TCC’s responses to—and prevention of—crisis situations including terror attacks, chemical spills, fires, tornadoes and beyond.
“Preparing yourself for bad things is a vitally important aspect of managing and recovering from them,” Driver says. Consider a recent, typical mid-winter Thursday afternoon at TCC Northwest. Unseasonably mild temperatures encourage relaxed strolling across the expansive campus. All is as it should be.
Until it’s not.
Campus police just received word of an active shooter. Within seconds, sirens shriek throughout the Fine Arts building as LED panels flash eye-wateringly bright red and yellow warnings. At the same time, smartphones are dinging with emergency alert messages warning occupants to “Lockdown.”
In under a minute, armed campus police charge into the building, pound on classroom doors and urgently shout, “Lockdown, turn off lights, stay inside.” With rapid-step precision, they deploy throughout the building’s floors of hallways, classrooms, checking for an armed intruder as well as for correct actions taken by the building’s occupants.
In less than five minutes, the lights and noise cease and the officers retrace their steps, repeatedly calling the welcome message, “All clear.”
Practice, Practice, Practice…
Fortunately, that scary scenario was just a drill, one of many conducted across TCC’s campuses and ancillary facilities every semester. Driver and his team work in partnership with TCC Police to plan the drills and then participate in immediate afteraction reviews with the police, noting any areas for potential improvement. In this case, Sergeant Ceferino Cruz and his officers congratulate each other and Driver’s team on another successful exercise.
“The idea behind the drills is to test the operational effectiveness of our systems and coordinate rapid responses from police personnel to protect our faculty, students, staff and visitors,” Driver says. “It’s vital that everyone involved understands how to respond to these types of emergency situations. That means running drills and simulations on a regular basis.”
But while terror attacks and tornadoes might grab headlines, Driver’s team also has to think about chemical spills, workplace safety issues, fire prevention and extinguisher readiness, hazardous waste disposal and proper insurance coverage for any number and variety of on- and off-campus events.
“It’s a big job,” says TCC Assistant Chief of Police Leigh Dietrich. “Our shared responsibilities encompass 4 million square feet of campus facilities and more than 50,000 students, as well as about 4,200 faculty and staff. We’re fortunate to have such a great relationship with the Safety & Emergency Management team. They’re really a wonderful, dedicated, hard-working and committed group.”
Driver and his team have built a cross-functional organization that coordinates preparedness activities across a range of services:
- Environmental Management
- Workplace Safety
- Emergency Management
- Risk Management
Driver points out that this four-part structure represents a comprehensive approach to safety services rather than separate silo mentalities. “Each division is an equal diamond,” he explains. “Together, the four make a larger diamond that’s dependent upon each of the others.”
Up Close and Personal with the Team
Steve Kleypas is the director of the Environmental Management Division and together with Josh Poteete, the environmental coordinator, they ensure compliance with federal, state and local environmental policies. “Our responsibilities include hazardous materials, stormwater pollution and runoff, asbestos and mold abatement, fuel storage tank safety, air quality and other environmental issues. And, we work with a large network of qualified third-party vendors to assure quality control.”
Workplace Safety Manager Carlos Owens and Safety Technician Dana Crowson are the team members faculty, students and staff might see most often. “We’re out and about all the time,” Owens said. “We perform weekly checks of the 100-plus emergency eyewash stations at laboratories and monthly inspections of TCC’s 2,000 fire extinguishers and 180 automated external defibrillator (AED) units. We also supervise risk-reduction and safety training programs and investigates injury reports for possible trends that need correcting.”
Peggy Morales oversees the Emergency Management division, which educates the TCC community on various hazards. “Twice a month, we teach a mandatory four-hour class to new employees on emergency and safety actions,” she said. (The course is also open to current employees.) “Attendees learn CPR and how to operate an AED, among other safety measures.”
Suzanne Robinson runs the Risk Management division with the assistance from Safety & Risk Specialist Sharon Smalley. “We handle property and liability insurance, which includes 18 lines of coverage,” she says, “Additionally, we advise faculty, staff and student organizations about appropriate risk mitigation techniques. Risk Management is consulted for approval of certificates of insurance for vendors and specific events, approval of District authorized drivers, filing incident reports and the processing of claims.”
Two Ways to Prepare
For incidents affecting the entire District, there’s “myTCC Alerts.” Faculty, students and staff are automatically enrolled in the system and receive alerts via their TCC email and a voice message. (For text alerts, log into your “myTCC” account and select “opt-in.”)
For incidents affecting a single campus, the “ALERTUS” system notifies faculty, staff and students via computer desktops, desk phones, alert beacons, digital signage and a free mobile app available on both iPhone and Android systems. The team also coordinates with TCC Web Communications to post alerts on social media and TCC’s website to ensure complete communications coverage.
That old saying, ‘Hope for the best but plan for the worst’, is true. I hope we never have to use any of these measures. But if we do, we’re ready.
Director of TCC Department of Safety & Emergency Management
For more information, please visit the TCC Department of Safety & Emergency Department web page or call 817-515-1600.