Recent disease outbreaks put UNA on alert

UNA has an encompassing and detailed plan in the event of a campus-wide incident, officials said.

The Incident Response Plan covers everything from virus outbreaks to violence to weather emergencies. Depending on the incident, there are detailed options which the proper officials would take based on the level of emergency and amount of students which need to be notified.

“We want to be transparent, timely and truthful when alerting people of a campus emergency,” said Vice President of Student Affairs David Shields.

Shields said the more information people are given the better decisions they can make. He stressed the importance of good communication as well.

“We don’t want to create panic, but we need to be timely,” Shields said.

During a 2006 mild outbreak of tuberculosis on campus, UNA used regular press releases as opposed to Lion Alert or UNA email to keep students informed about what was going on.

Students have to sign up for the Lion Alert service, so not everyone would be able to be contacted by that service. Using multiple sources of communication allow UNA to spread the information needed to those who need to be informed without causing overreaction or panic.

UNA’s protocol during a response to an emergency is what the state of Alabama requires of other state universities, officials said.

During the 2009 outbreak of the H1N1 flu, Director of University Health Services Cindy Wood said UNA handled it well.

“We sent out a lot of informative emails and posted a lot of information online,” Wood said. “If we can relay useful information to the students, then they can make good decisions as whether to go home or stay home.

“When I see a trend in illnesses on campus, the first thing I do is contact the health department and determine if this is a campus problem or a community problem. From there, the implementation of the Incident Response Plan can help in determining whether an illness is problematic.”

UNA student Laura Lopez said she would initially be shocked, but thankful, at an announcement from the university if it were to have to close down due to a virus outbreak.

“I would want to be told the truth about what is happening as well as ways I can find treatment,” Lopez said.

UNA student Katie Maples said if a virus outbreak occurred at UNA as it did recently in Muscle Shoals, she would also hope to receive information about prevention.