Emergency FAQ


Emergency response guide Planning for emergencies

Western remains active in its efforts to prepare for emergency situations and disasters. Below are frequently asked questions about emergencies at Western. For more information about emergency preparedness at Western, visit the Environmental Health and Safety website.

What should I do if I am concerned about a threat or unusual behavior that I have observed?

Individuals who are concerned about a person’s behavior, either personally or to the campus in general, even if no violence or threat of violence has occurred, should call the “SAFE” Campus phone number:

SAFE Campus Phone Number: (360) 650-SAFE or 650-7233

Trained personnel screen the information provided and forward it to Western’s Safety Assessment Team or appropriate university office. This helps campus professionals evaluate students and others who may be exhibiting behavior that is reason for concern.

How will Western communicate with me in the event of an emergency?

Western will use its integrated Western Alert system to communicate during times of emergency. Multiple methods of communication are included in this approach, as this is a best practice in disseminating information quickly and effectively. Western Alert includes the following methods:

Building Enunciation
The building enunciation system sends emergency voice messages to the campus through fire alarm speakers. Enunciation capability exists within fire systems in all academic and administrative buildings, some residence halls, the Wade King Student Recreation Center and the Viking Union.

Text messages
Text messages will be sent out to anyone signed up to receive them. It should be noted that text messages appear to be FROM a random number (e.g. 53430 or another similar number, not a phone number); the FROM field does not state that the message is from Western. The text within the message clarifies that the message is being sent from Western and is an important Western Alert.  If you are in doubt about the authenticity of the text message, you can consult the emergency.wwu.edu website, which will provide up-to-date information. 

To date, 94% of students, 64% of staff, and 57% of faculty have provided their cell phone numbers to Web4U to receive emergency text messages. Parents of students and general community members may sign-up to receive emergency information. Those currently not using text messaging are encouraged to become accustomed to it. In many disaster scenarios, texting is the most effective method of disseminating information as it requires less signal strength for transmission and reception than a cell call.

Email messages
Emergency emails will be sent to all Western official email addresses describing the nature of the emergency.

Information will be disseminated on the emergency.wwu.edu website, which is hosted at an external location. This system will still function even if university servers are down. If that webpage is unavailable, go to the Western homepage: http://www.wwu.edu/.

Facebook and Twitter
Information sent to campus will automatically go to Western’s Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Steam whistle alert
The steam whistle (‘Big Ole’) is located on top of the Steam Plant and will sound upon the identification of an emergency that affects the campus community. Big Ole is a way to reach individuals outside on most of the main campus. Upon hearing the Big Ole whistle, individuals should seek information in the form of text messages, email messages, and/or on the Western emergency website: emergency.wwu.edu or the Western homepage, wwu.edu.


When is the Western Alert system tested?

Testing of the Western Alert system occurs at least twice per year, usually in the spring and fall quarters.  A test of the Western Alert system includes the following:

  1. Activating the building enunciation system
  2. Sending text messages to all cell phones that have registered for Western Alerts
  3. Sending email messages to every employee and student
  4. Putting emergency information on the emergency.wwu.edu website
  5. Putting information on Western’s Facebook page and Twitter feed
  6. Activation of the Big Ole steam whistle

Prior to the test, Western provides notification information about it, including the date and time.

What can I do to prepare for an emergency?

  • View the Western emergency video available at emergency.wwu.edu (scroll down on this web-page) or on YouTube at this link.
  • Review the information in the WWU Emergency Response Guide regarding emergencies of varying kinds. Employees should hang a paper copy of the guide in a visible location for quick reference. Contact Environmental Health and Safety for a copy if you have not received one. Copies should be posted in classrooms.
  • Faculty may wish to review the page in the above guide regarding classroom information in an emergency.
  • Every employee should be aware of your departmental emergency plan.
  • Keep an emergency wallet card with important Western emergency contact numbers with you.
  • Back up your work-related information so you can retrieve it even if you cannot return to your workplace.
  • Evaluate the spaces you frequent and know where to drop, cover and hold in an earthquake.
  • Know two exit routes from your office and the classrooms in which you are teaching. See floor plans.
  • Have emergency supplies at work and at home including personal medications. Personal 72-hour kits are considered the minimum. The AS Bookstore sells pre-made emergency kits. Check out the following source for suggestions as well; Washington State Preparedness or FEMA Ready site
  • First aid and CPR training is available free to campus employees. To sign up, call the Environmental Health and Safety office or access the WWU training website. Students may contact the American Red Cross or Bellingham Technical College regarding training opportunities. Departments wishing to organize classes for student employees may choose to contact Randy Flitz of I Know CPR.
  • If you have not already, sign up for emergency text messages by providing your cell phone number at: http://www.wwu.edu/web4u. If you are an employee, you may also call Human Resources and ask them to sign up your cell phone.
  • Include becoming emergency ready as a part of your life.
  • Whatcom County provides Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training. FEMA’s ready.gov site has many suggestions and resources as well.

What do I do during and after an emergency?

  • Follow the guidance in the WWU Emergency Response Guide for the type of emergency occurring.
  • For example, if you feel an earthquake, drop, cover and hold. When and if it is safe, exit the building, gather at your building meeting location or at a major disaster meeting location.
  • Evacuate immediately if the fire alarm sounds. In classrooms, instruct students to calmly gather coats and books and exit slowly and with order. Gather at your Building/Department Assembly Point.
  • As discussed earlier, a Western Alert communication will be activated in the event of a major emergency. If the Big Ole steam whistle sounds, seek information on your university email, cell phone text message and/or WWU emergency website.
  • Following a major disaster, go to one of the three Disaster Assembly Points:
    • Old Main lawn,
    • The south campus oval by the Communications Facility, or
    • The tennis courts at South College Drive and Bill McDonald Parkway.
  • Bring your personal and departmental emergency supplies to assist in caring for yourself and our community.
  • If you know first aid and CPR, assist with caring for any injured.

How will WWU respond to campus needs during and immediately following an emergency?

Western bases its responses on priorities identified in the university’s Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan. These include:

  • Eliminate major threats to life and safety
  • Preserve property and the environment
  • Maintain continuity of educational activities
  • Restore essential systems and services
  • Restore the residential living programs

What measures are in place to help prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies?

Threats and Violence

  • Western’s Safety Assessment Team, which includes law enforcement, mental health professionals, medical professionals and others, identifies, assesses and manages situations that point towards probable or possible violent behaviors by individuals or groups.
  • University Police are available to train campus departments or groups about violent behaviors. They provide two types of training: what to do during an active shooter scenario and recognizing and responding to behaviors of concern. See the behaviors video.
  • Campus community members who have concerns related to domestic violence are encouraged to consult the Human Resources’ domestic violence website that includes relevant contacts and links, applicable policies and useful information. The Wellness and Prevention Center website provides information for students.

Other Types of Emergencies

  • Green coat escorts are available at University Police, 360-650-3555.
  • Personal safety brochures and posters are available from University Police or Environmental Health and Safety.
  • The Employee Assistance Program is a benefit for employees. The Human Resources Department arranges this state service that provides free, confidential and professional assistance.
  • A WWU Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan is available and updated.
  • Individual departments summarize their emergency preparations in the WWU Safety Information Book, Section 2. Many departments have completed these departmental and building emergency plans.
  • A fire safety auditor checks facilities to enhance WWU’s fire prevention efforts.
  • Fire drills are performed annually.
  • Selected WWU personnel received National Incident Management System (NIMS) training, and regularly collaborate with City emergency responders and others.
  • Exterior emergency call boxes with blue lights at night are located across campus.
  • The Emergency Response Guide has been distributed to employees and is on-line.
  • New staff employees receive the guide, emergency and fire protection information during an initial, on-line orientation. New faculty members receive the guide and fliers with information.
  • Wallet-sized cards with emergency information and phone numbers are distributed to employees.

How is WWU working to increase the awareness of safety and emergency procedures among the campus community before the event of an emergency?

  • This website emergency.wwu.edu provides emergency information as well as information related to emergency situations. Included in this information are two items in particular:
    • and Western’s emergency video
    • WWU Emergency Response Guide
  • Western has web-based emergency planning information available.
  • Western’s policy website includes all approved policies:
  • Department heads review emergency information with their staff members at least annually.
  • New staff employee orientations include a review of emergency information.
  • New faculty packets include emergency information.
  • Western’s Emergency Management Committee is composed of 25 persons from across the campus community that meet regularly. The Committee reviews issues, evaluates and pursues effective measures relating to mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.