Written by: Amneet Mann, News Editor
After two emergency incidents on Burnaby campus, senators at the latest SFU Senate meeting discussed the university’s current protocol for emergency incidents and potential steps forward.
Of the two incidents last month, one incident involved a violent attack by a student, and another was a medical emergency which led to a student’s passing. Senator Nancy Forde brought this discussion forward with senator Erika Plettner during the meeting’s question period, noting that these incidents “have prompted discussions with our colleagues and our students.”
“There is a sense of unease, and even fear, about situations such as these, prompted by a lack of professional training and how to deal with emergency situations and/or personal experience with past traumatic events,” said Forde.
“I want [ . . . ] to acknowledge that we did indeed have very difficult incidents, and that we have learned from each of these two incidents,” responded Peter Keller, senator and vice-president, academic and provost.
“I acknowledge that in the first incident, the outbreak of violence in one of the classrooms — while our instruction staff I think handled the situation at the moment extremely well, things did not go as smoothly as we would’ve hoped in the follow-up with students and the instructors.”
Discussion around university response protocols and steps forward
Senator Colin Percival noted that students talking about the incidents on social media were concerned about the poor cell phone reception in parts of the university. He asked if the university had moved to remedy the issue.
Keller responded that the university is looking into two options to improve cell phone connectivity on campus: the first was to install more receiver-transmitter stations, and the second was to improve the Wi-Fi network.
Plettner asked about the resources and protocols available for SFU community members responding to an emergency. In response, Keller referred to the work being done by the university’s Safety and Risk Services (SRS), which has a website and manages the SFU Snap app. Throughout the year, SRS holds emergency drills on earthquakes, active threats, and severe weather, among others.
Keller also noted that SFU had an extensive automated external defibrillators (AED) program. The defibrillators have been installed around the SFU Burnaby, Surrey, and Vancouver campuses alongside posters describing how to use them. AED locations are publicly marked in the SRS website, and according to Keller, SRS is working with IT services to add the AED locations to the SFU Snap app.
Keller added that SRS, SFU University Communications, and IT services are working to enhance how emergency notifications are delivered to communities.
Forde then asked about the short-term psychological support and follow-up provided by the university to survivors and witnesses of an incident. Keller outlined that Campus Public Safety would act as first responders in emergency incidents. Then, they would relay information to an incident response committee comprising university administration from Student Services, SRS, University Communications, and the president’s office. This committee would dispatch psychological support, which may include mental health professionals from Health and Counselling, Interfaith Centre staff, or an emergency response team from My SSP.
Plettner extended the question by asking about the protocol for providing long-term support to students affected by an incident. Keller emphasized that long-term responses are incident-specific, but that a response would be coordinated by Student Services and may involve a number of offices.
“The coordinated response plan will most often work alongside academic programs to ensure that those affected by the incident are provided with wrap-around care. So that includes care both from student services and the academic program,” said Keller.
Keller also assured Senate that the university was in constant communications with other post-secondary institutions on effective response protocols.
Questions on a broader stance on mental health and response protocols
Plettner asked whether the university should consider adopting the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety, “given recent events and perceptions of safety on campus, as well as increasing rates of student distress and isolation.”
“This new standard is the first of its kind in the world and adopting it would enable SFU to take a proactive stance on these issues,” said Plettner. Plettner noted that there is currently no mention of mental health in SFU’s University Occupational Health and Safety, GP-17.
Keller stated that GP-17 had not been revised since 2005, and the university would look into editing the language in the policy regarding mental health.
Senator Jamie Scott asked whether the university has made progress towards a policy outlining a staff and faculty response to student suicides.
“In MBB [department] in the past few years, we’ve had a couple of student suicides and faculty didn’t really know how to deal with it,” said Scott.
“I’d also like to add that I think that there could be a little bit more professional development. We have a lot of help with teaching and learning, we don’t have a lot of help with a whole bunch other things that we’re kind of made to do,” added Scott.
In response, Keller noted that the university has embedded more training for teaching assistants and tutor markers, and is in contact with human relations and faculty relations to develop more training projects with respect to critical incidents.
Senator Daniel Laitsch asked for discussion regarding the mental health staffing at SFU relative to recommended student-to-staff ratios “and the perception that our current services are substantially understaffed [ . . . ] particularly at the Surrey campus.”
Keller responded that the university administration was aware of the issue and that the My SSP app was a step towards addressing it. Keller noted that the university intended My SPP to be used as a first response as it provides 24/7 support in multiple languages.