How the University of Central Florida Recovers

University of Central Florida

On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen performed the deadliest mass shooting on US soil. Mateen attacked Pulse Nightclub in downtown Orlando, Florida at 2 a.m., killing 49 and injuring 53 others, according to a CNN story published on Monday, June 13.

The same week, The Voice singer Christina Grimmie was shot and killed at a meet and greet after her show at The Plaza in Orlando. A week later, a 2-year-old child was killed after being pulled into an lagoon by an alligator at Walt Disney  World.

After all of this tragedy, James Wilkening, the director of campus recreation at the University of Central Florida, also located in Orlando, Florida, is assessing his student and full-time staff. “Individually, we’re doing OK,” he said. “As a department, for the most part, I think responding pretty well. With 58 full-time staff and 450 student employees, there’s certainly a lot of different reactions and feelings and thought processes.”

He said he did not call an all-staff meeting of 500+ student and full-time employees, but instead delegated care to his directors. Wilkening explained he first met with his leadership staff and “checked-in” with each other. Then, the staff checked in with their students and smaller staff to see how each individual is handling the tragedies.

But this is not the first time the University of Central Florida has dealt with an incident on or near campus. “Living in Florida, there’s always a chance of hurricanes. We’ve experienced the hurricanes of 2004. And then there was a, what we call the Tower 1 incident,” Wilkening said.

The Tower 1 incident involved a male student living in student housing with a gun. On March 18, 2013, James Oliver Seevakumaran, a student at the University of Central Florida, attempted and failed at shooting spree at Tower 1 campus apartments.

Before the Tower 1 incident and before the tragedies of last week in Orlando, the campus recreation department has an incident protocol for various types of emergencies, as a part of their risk management plan. Each year, Gaby Bell, the coordinator of athletic training and risk management, reviews those plans.

“It’s always been in place, but it continues to be enhanced,” explained Wilkening. “I would say all the way back to 2004, we were in the process of really establishing more aggressive risk management plans. We’ve also gone through two different assessments of risk by a risk management consultant, Ian McGregor. Gone through a couple of his reviews to try to have another lens to look at the things we’re doing to make sure we’re following best practices and not falling behind on any of the things that we’re doing.”

Three Pieces of Advice on How to Deal with Emergency Situation as a Campus Recreation Director:

In the events of last week, Wilkening said it was best protocol to follow suit of the university. “My advice for directors, or others on your staff, want to do all these things to really show how much you care, but it’s much more helpful if you fall in line and follow the lead of the university. Recreation directors and recreation professionals as a whole and even student affairs professionals as a whole, we’re very helpful and we always want to be helping and be doing things to be able to help others,” said Wikening. “If I immediately on Sunday saw this and got some staff to start doing things, it might not have been in conjunction with what the university was doing.”

His second piece of advice was to understand individuals are going to process emergency situations in different ways, but as a director, he believes it’s his responsibility to be a resource for all types of recovery processes ­– whether that’s simply listening or talking with a full-time staff employee.

Finally, Wilkening added as a director, you need to check in with yourself and ensure you’re processing the situation.

Wilkening also wanted to thank and acknowledge the campus recreation professionals who have reached out to him. “It is appreciated and it’s certainly acknowledged,” he said.


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