Texas A&M University, established in 1876, is immensely entrenched in tradition, and the scholars are well known for their passionate “Aggie spirit.” Situated in College Station, Texas, the institution of higher education enlists more than 43,000 learners. In November 1999, training for the yearly ball game against the University of Texas was in full swing. Characteristically, the Bonfire, an annual event that represents the Aggies’ “burning desire” to overcome their arch-rival, was the main center of attention. The Bonfire tradition started in the 1920s with a heap of timber and garbage. Over the years, it developed to immense sizes, attaining a height of 109 feet in 1969 before the institution of campus rules initiated in the 1970s restricted the height that may have been constructed.
The Collapse of the 1999 Bonfire
On November 18, 1999, at around 2:30 a.m, a week before the Bonfire would have been set blazing on Thanksgiving Day, disaster struck. In a matter of seconds, the massive heap of eighteen-foot woods, with a weight of more than one million pounds, started collapsing and, since it was intended to do when blazed, it caved in. Most individuals that had been working on the heap were stuck in the distorted structure of firewood. As campus representatives, consisting of the institution’s Critical Incident Response Team, disembarked at the scene, approximately two deaths and several damages were evident. The total number of learners working on the heap when it distorted remained unidentified, along with the number of disappeared individuals. Due to the extent of the calamity and the trouble of undoing the structure, it took more than seven hours to authenticate the record of unaccounted-for learners and inform their parents. The last victim was traced approximately twenty-four hours after the downfall. Ultimately, twelve Aggies perished, consisting of eleven learners and alumni, and twenty-seven sustained multiple injuries.
Crisis Management Techniques
Regarding organizational obstacles, an active risk management plan was missing, and cultural bias obstructed risk identification. Particular complications resulted in specific actions rather than all-inclusive action to tackle an enormous challenge. For any form of crisis management, there should be a proper procedure to be followed by emergency administrators and any individual. To avert the tragedy, the institution may have integrated certain crisis management mechanisms. Foremost, there existed a need for pre-incident preparation, creating and implementing emergency management mechanisms. According to Treadwell Lane and Paterson (2020), the occurrence did not just demonstrate the significance of preparation, but similarly the importance of sharing resources and interagency collaboration. Consequently, preparation is considered to more significant in such circumstances. The period of identifying possible sources and the accessibility of resources is essential prior to an event. Moreover, emergency management procedures should be assessed and reviewed following an occurrence.
Second, a good and steadfast system of communication is vital during a large-scale event. Most calls were placed on cellular phones during a period that disaster responders were similarly trying to utilize cellular gadgets. Therefore, the cellular system was equally loaded. According to Tachkova (2020), to avert the danger, officers should have considered the challenge during the pre-incident preparation stage and devise a strategy to have the local cellular provider answer to the site quickly to take charge of their system and to give priority airtime to disaster responders. Cellular corporations might make caches of cellular phones accessible to crisis responders for utilization during an incident.
Currently, A&M no longer holds Bonfire. However, several learners each fall continue to take part in the assembly of a minor structure off-campus. The Bonfire Memorial held by the institution commemorates the custom, history, and essence of Texas A&M and the devotion of individuals entangled in the catastrophic downfall of the 1999 Bonfire. Moreover, the field is engraved with a stone marker demonstrating the precise position of the center pole.
Treadwell, K. L., Lane, F. C., & Paterson, B. G. (2020). Reflections from Crisis: A Phenomenological Study of the Texas A&M Bonfire Collapse. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 57(2), 119-131.
Tachkova, E. R. (2020). Enhancing post-crisis communication through memorials: the case of the bonfire crisis at Texas A&M. Corporate Communications: An International Journal.