EUGENE, Ore. (AP) - André Le Duc is prepared to step into somebody’s darkest hour, and from Umpqua Community College’s experience, they’ll be glad to have him there.
Le Duc, an associate vice president at the University of Oregon, and his incident management team of UO employees are among the low-profile heroes in the days after the Oct. 1 shooting massacre at Umpqua Community College, said Roseburg business leader and UO booster Allyn Ford.
A small community college isn’t equipped to deal with the complex aftermath of a mass shooting, Ford said.
“They stepped into that gap, and, boy, was their presence a help. They did a wonderful job. Terrific,” he recently told UO President Michael Schill.
The four-member team - and others from the UO who assisted as the days went by - helped UCC leaders get their feet back underneath them.
They worked shoulder to shoulder with Vanessa Becker, chairwoman of the UCC board.
“It really made a difference to the long-term recovery,” she said.
The UO team arrived on the UCC campus at 8 a.m. on Oct. 2, less than 24 hours after a gunman killed nine people and wounded seven others before turning the gun on himself.
Le Duc; Krista Dillon, a UO emergency manager; Julie Brown, a UO public information officer; and Sheryl Eyster, UO associate dean of students, went to UCC only after they were invited by UCC President Rita Cavin.
The emergency responder’s creed is something like this: First, increase no chaos.
“If you look at big incidents, like (Hurricane) Katrina, you have a lot of people who self-deploy,” Le Duc said.
“This is a time when locals are having a hard time managing what they have - on top of all these volunteers. All these people who have great goodwill and intentions but, what they don’t realize, is they’re bringing a management nightmare with them.”
“We only come when asked, and we only do what’s asked of us,” he said of his team.
In the case of disasters - and especially mass shootings - community leaders are traumatized and sometimes fragile.
“UCC staff were victims, too,” said Nora Vitz Harrison, a communications consultant for the Roseburg-based Ford Family Foundation, who helped at UCC.
“They were traumatized. To expect people who are going through their own trauma to have to step up and start organizing is asking a lot. André was very sensitive to that fact.”
The first job is to build trust, said Le Duc, an outdoorsman and cargo bicycle rider with a solidity and steadiness to his demeanor.
“André was very clear that he was there just to support the (leadership),” Harrison said. “He would present options and offers and let them choose what to do.”
Becker said it took UCC workers only a couple of hours to trust what Le Duc had to offer.
“Andre’s team was able to do two things. They were able to step in and help us, and give our team a little bit of time to get back on our feet,” Becker said.
Secondly, she said, the team quickly set up an organizational structure, a backbone, for the recovery to normal campus operations - designating one person to lead communications, another to direct facilities and another to spearhead mental health services.
“We made it very, very clear that the University of Oregon was covering the cost,” he added.
Problem by problem
The UO team helped establish a command center in the Southern Oregon Wine Institute, a big building on the UCC campus.
The team set up incident command software, which provided a page for all participants to post what they were doing, to avoid duplication.
“Some of the most simple things were the most appreciated - just starting a giant to-do list,” Harrison said.
Le Duc’s job was to think forward, figuring out what the campus would need in the next hours and days - and where to get goods or services.
The UO team coordinated with state officials. The team’s knowledge of who to call was invaluable, Harrison said.
The first day, the team helped prepare a plan for “property reunification.”
When students and faculty ran for their lives during the shooting, they left behind cellphones, purses, backpacks, identification.
“It seems small,” Le Duc said. “It’s a purse. It’s a wallet. But to that person, it’s their connection. That’s their next meal.”
It was a tricky task to get the right property to the right person, and it would take time. To get students and faculty through that first weekend, the Ford Family Foundation provided Visa cards charged with $50.
On the third day after the shooting, a transformer at a nearby power station blew, and the campus went dark.
The servers were out, so UCC had no public web page where the team could post information.
“With … media trucks (outside), that’s a problem,” Le Duc said.
When the power returned, crews had to figure out how to reset the campus alarm systems.
A big worry was how to get UCC’s business office running, because the academic quarter had just begun, and students had yet to receive the financial aid they use to pay for living expenses.
The task was complicated by rules that say students have to spend a certain amount of time in class to qualify for a check, which was impossible when classes were cancelled because of the shootings.
“We were dealing with the dignitary visits, the communication with the White House,” Le Duc added. “They’d never done that before.”
The college also had to prepare for the moment the building where the shooting occurred was returned to campus control for cleaning and repairs.
“Nobody thinks about these things, but somebody does have to clean this stuff up,” Le Duc said.
The college hired a national firm to do the cleaning, and about a dozen UO facilities employees arrived to help put the campus in order.
They arranged privacy fencing around the crime scene, “trying to make it so you don’t see things you don’t want to see,” Le Duc said.
Over the weekend, they prepared to bring students and faculty back to campus for a “soft opening” on Monday. “There’s a strong imperative to allow people to come back and take their campus back, when you have a traumatic event,” Le Duc said.
“There were no classes. Counseling and food, that was our goal.”
The team arranged for public affairs officers - from everywhere from LaPine to Portland - to rotate in and out of the command center.
They prepared lists of frequently asked questions, readied press releases, arranged press conferences, monitored social media and acted to counter misinformation wherever they found it, Harrison said.
They became friends. “I’ll be connected with the people of Umpqua Community College for the rest of my life,” Le Duc said.
Earlier in December, the UO named Le Duc its chief resilience officer and an associate vice president.
He’d been on campus for nearly 19 years, working first as a researcher, then an emergency manager, then as head of the UO’s risk management department. He assembled a 35-member incident command team that responds to on-campus emergencies.
With 25,000 students, the UO is like a small city with residents in dorms to keep safe. But it also has research to preserve.
“Very few communities have 80-below research freezers that, if they thaw out, we lose a genome for research for the rest of eternity,” he said.
The UO team studies, drills and practices at big, regular UO events, such as the Olympic Trials at Hayward Field and football games at Autzen Stadium.
Le Duc recently recommended the Oregon Legislature help form two similar teams, which could respond to emergencies on college campuses and at the state’s K-12 schools.
Le Duc developed and manages the national Disaster Resilience University Listserv, which include 1,400 members at 700 institutions.
“I should really get hobbies,” he joked. “This is what I do at night.”
He recently obtained a $90,000 U.S. Department of Justice grant, which will pay half a dozen UO graduate students to conduct a nationwide survey of as many as 300 universities and colleges, to catalog their emergency preparations. The work begins in January and is expected to conclude in June with a report to Congress.
Meanwhile, Le Duc is promoting a National Intercollegiate Mutual Aid Agreement, which would streamline university and college efforts to help each other in emergencies.
Signatories include Florida State University, the University of Pittsburg, and Tufts and Clemson universities.
In Oregon, only the UO and UCC have signed on. Le Duc hopes other public and private universities and community colleges will follow suit.
A formal mutual aid agreement would have helped on the day of the UCC shootings.
Le Duc initially notified state officials that his team was ready to roll, but he got no reply. Finally, with a round-about connection through a colleague’s wife, he reached UCC and got the OK - but it took seven hours.
With an agreement in place, the team would simply go, Le Duc said.
On the fifth day after the shootings, the UO team at UCC began to dissipate. Le Duc stayed on for 12 days.
“We’re kind of like Nanny McPhee,” he joked, referring to the nanny with mystical powers in the movie that bears her name.
“When you don’t want us but need us, we’ll come. When you no longer need us but want us, we have to go.”
Information from: The Register-Guard, https://www.registerguard.com
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