✔✔✔✔✔ Good day, fellow Dukies. FC here. Probative. Provocative. Pro-Duke.
A continuing Fact Checker investigation into the failure of the university's emergency notification system during Tuesday's tornado alerts has uncovered more deficiencies than were first apparent.
The university vice president in charge, Kyle Cavanaugh, ducked in his Allen Building cocoon for the second day on Wednesday, refusing to answer any FC inquiries. We even provided him with a cell phone number to reach us after hours. It's too early to tell if Cavanaugh will enlist Vice President L-Mo as he did during another failure last spring, and write a letter to the editor of the Chronicle trying to wiggle out of all accountability.
And Vice President Michael Schoenfeld, who has specific responsibility to provide information about alerts under emergency protocols established on April 15, 2009, also ducked us.
✔ The protocols provide for a three-tier alert system; we have been unable to find out basic information, like which level Cavanaugh or his designee declared when the National Weather Service first announced a day-long tornado watch for the entire region. As Loyal Readers know, a watch means a high potential for tornado activity. A warning is an escalation -- imminent danger to life and property -- because a funnel has been sighted or radar gives indications of formation.
We do know that at some point -- how early we do not know -- the watch was listed on Duke's website, but no other steps were taken. People who had signed up for e-mail advisories, for example, received nothing at this point.
We have also not been able to find out, in building a timeline, if Duke still subscribes to a private weather service -- revealed last April in an earlier fiasco -- and if so, when alerts from this service arrived.
And we do not know if Cavanaugh or his designate moved Duke to a higher tier in its internal protocols when the National Weather Service escalated to declare tornado warnings. The warnings occurred twice during the morning and once in the afternoon.
✔✔✔ We demanded to know why no notice whatsoever was given of the morning warnings.
✔✔✔ We asked about the afternoon warning, why some methods of notification that the emergency plan provides for were employed -- and others were not. We demand to know why this discrepancy occurred.
One method is the internet. We did not monitor Duke's three websites providing DukeAlert information at the time, so we are unable to provide an assessment. In the past, a student writing on the Chronicle blog noted "The "Duke Alert" page was a challenge to find"
We know that people who signed up for e-mail alerts received notification of the afternoon warning. A half hour late.
✔✔✔ But the sirens that surround all areas -- West, East, Central and the medical campus -- were not employed. At UNC, in the same forecast area as Duke, the sirens sounded twice. As we noted in our report yesterday, these procedures and the sirens were put in after the Virginia Tech massacre, and are used for any life-threatening situation on campus. If someone pushes the button.
And we have been unable to trace where Cavanaugh -- who is at the vortex of the university's emergency planning -- was at the time, and what methods there are to communicate with him. If there was a duty officer, we cannot find out his or her name.
✔✔✔ Deputy Fact Checkers have picked up on a debate among Dukies -- whether tornado activity was in fact close enough to campus to merit great concern.
This discussion is beside the point: the National Weather Service having upgraded to an alert, it was incumbent upon Duke to provide this information. And having decided to fulfill this responsibility -- as Duke did on one of three occasions on Tuesday -- immediate notification was required -- not a lackadaisical half hour delay.
We want Cavanaugh to explain precisely why the earlier alerts were ignored, and the last acted upon. There is nothing in the official Weather Service bulletins that would allow FC to make that distinction.
✔✔✔ Last spring, another failure involved a good dose of stupidity.
The siren system is tested once each semester and once during the summer. The purpose is two fold: to make sure the sirens are working and to familiarize people with them.
So far this semester, there has been no test. Meaning one/fourth of all undergraduates have no orientation.
Last spring, the test was scheduled for April 21st, with advance notification throughout Duke and the surrounding neighborhoods. No, we have no idea in hell why the tests aren't held on the first day of the semester.
April 21st. But three days earlier, a severe storm smacked its way through North Carolina, and at the height of the rain, wind and fury, someone at Duke got the bright idea to test the sirens right then. To make sure they would work in case they were needed.
This caused -- to put it mildly -- a great deal of confusion on what was happening, and how individuals should respond.
As a Chronicle editorial noted, at least students had the Weather Channel on cable TV. We are checking, but believe that is no longer available since Duke has given up cable TV service and substituted transmissions over phone lines that do not include all cable channels.
More from the editorial: "Whether or not students are in real physical danger is beside the point. Students deserve to be made aware of severe weather activity. This is all the more important when the campus is buffeted by wind, rain and talk of tornadoes. DukeALERT could allay much of the student anxiety generated by imminent severe weather by updating students on the status of the weather and, more importantly, by letting students know what to do if the worst does happen."
On Tuesday, it was deja vu: OK we hear the tornado alert, we want to take action, but what?
✔ Our list of failures would not be complete if we did not note a major continuing snafu during 2010. On many occasions, alert e-mails sent out by L-Mo did not go through.
We tried to inquire at that time, but he squiggled away: we wanted to know precisely when L-Mo discovered this and what he did about it.
✔✔✔ The administrator in charge of this mess, the emergency coordinator, Vice President Kyle Cavanaugh, has a deep obligation to explain these failures to the entire community. We are sad to report that he apparently views his job differently.
When Cavanaugh first arrived at Duke from the University of Florida in 2008, he earned praise from Fact Checker. Specifically we mentioned his role at forums for worried employees facing possible layoffs.
Cavanaugh seemed particularly helpful, a far cry from the humppphh that we heard from his boss, Executive Vice President Tallman Trask.
That has changed. Cavanaugh has turned either indifferent or arrogant. He -- like Shoenfeld -- has gotten a severe case of Brodheaditis. This is an unctuous disease that spreads from the head down, for which there is no medicine. Rather, it requires surgical removal of the host. More and more, we believe this is going to be necessary.
Thank you for reading FC.