Behind the scenes of election night graveyard shift in the Emergency Operations Center

Posted on Nov 9 2016 - 2:00am by Slade Rand

On election night, room 404 A in the Student Union became campus’ Emergency Operations Center. Emergency Management Coordinator Barbara Russo manned the station, looking out for the Ole Miss students’ safety on the divisive night.

Russo was not alone in her duty, however. University Police Chief Tim Potts, Capt. Don Douglas and Assistant Director for Social Media Ryan Whittington joined her special election night team, acting as eyes around campus and online.

Russo manages Ole Miss’ Crisis Action Team throughout the year. She said the CAT assembles for any large gatherings on campus, including home football games and upcoming events like Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter’s investiture.

“We set up an emergency operations center for anything that has the potential to become a mass-casualty incident,” Russo said. “It’s a full house on game day.”

The CAT assembles virtually, via an online Emergency Operations Center. Members can chat, check social media and contact emergency responders, such as the police, through the online program.

Members of the team logged onto Tuesday’s virtual EOC from election watch parties and other central locations around campus.

“It’s about being proactive instead of reactive,” Russo said.

Part of the CAT’s responsibility is to watch social media for potentially dangerous posts from the university area. Whittington uses the program NUVI to scan every post from nearby for inflammatory keywords. If the program finds a tweet, Whittington presents it to the rest of the CAT to decide the next course of action.

One tweet came up on the virtual EOC early Tuesday night. Potts and. Douglas left their patrols to convene about a plan with Russo in the Student Union. They deemed the tweet insignificant, but kept an eye on its number of retweets and replies all night.

“My job as emergency manager is really to coordinate all responding agencies. They all kind of do their thing,” Russo said. “If it’s a fire emergency, the fire chief is in command. If it’s a crime, the police are in command.”

Douglas said UPD had patrols at all the special events on campus on election night. The night shift was on scheduled duty, and Potts called in the day shift for extra protection.

After all night classes let out, UPD barricaded the Circle off to traffic. Russo said this was to keep students safe from speeding cars in case a crowd gathered later.

UPD Lt. Adam Peacock patrolled campus on election night and said it was safer than he expected.

At 10:26 p.m., as the election only drew closer, Potts grew worried.

“That’s my concern, that they come back all liquored up from the swaps tonight. If he’s going to win, announce it now so they’re all still out on the Square,” Potts said.

UPD locked the Union’s doors at midnight on election night, and the election was still not closed. Russo said she hoped Clinton would win because it would mean she had a shot at becoming the director of FEMA. Russo sent Clinton a two-page letter about why she should be the first female head of the national emergency relief organization.

“I didn’t think it’d be this wide open at this point. If I had known, I would have sent a letter to both candidates,” Russo said. “I’m an equal opportunist.”