Sandy Hook Chooses Love after Mass Shooting, A Reverend Rebuilds His Town after Tornado, and a Teacher Creates a Culture of Safety in Schools

Blog_HeaderEmergencies may occur when an institution is most vulnerable, and while it goes without saying– they do not discriminate because of the holiday season! The best defense against an event occurring is to make sure that you are prepared. While there are lessons learned along the way, it is the hard work of the community that make a recovery strong and prove that no matter the devastation, working together is the key to bouncing back and making it better than before.

These three stories in the news reflect the hard work to promote safety and collaboration of those hardest hit:

The effects of trauma, if untreated, can last a lifetime. Today, many schools are asking their counselors or nurses to become trained in psychological first aid (PFA) in order to be ready to assist the affected after a traumatic event. Visit the National Child Traumatic Stress Network for more information: http://www.nctsn.org/content/psychological-first-aid-schoolspfa

Until a few years ago, very few ever considered the phase of Recovery before an event . Today, there are many mitigation measures that include building partnerships before an event, so that they are activated during the response phase of an incident and start the Recovery process immediately. These include debris removal, gutting services and demolition, bulk trash removal, water treatment and supply management, and partnerships with energy companies across the country that are available to respond in the event of an emergency. The Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) are also activated upon an event, and work closely with the Red Cross to provide support and relief services to areas and persons affected by disaster.

The Silver Lining to School Crime Statistics Is…

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Does an increase in incidents make your school better prepared? In June, the U.S. Dept. of Education released statistics on school crime that was collected for the 2011 -2012 school year, and administered by the Indicators of School Crime and Safety. Schools continue to face rates of crime that, especially in urban schools where it is most prevalent, are costing more than the school’s safety record: For some, it’s a daily struggle to manage the behavioral challenges, protect the students, and foster a high-quality learning environment. The report focuses on the topics of victimization, bullying, school conditions, fights, weapons, security staff, and perceptions of personal safety on school grounds. If you are interested in how your school measures up, here are a few statistics to look at:

  • In 2011, students ages 12–18 were victims of about 1,246,000 nonfatal victimizations at school, including 648,600 thefts and 597,500 violent victimizations
  • In 2011, 10% of male students in grades 9–12 reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property in the past year, compared to 5% of female students.
  • In 2011, about 28% of 12- to 18-year-old students reported having been bullied at school during the school year and 9% reported having been cyber-bullied.
  • 77% of students reported observing the use of one or more security cameras at their schools in 2011, which represented an increase from 70% in 2009.
  • In 2011, 5% of students in grades 9–12 reported having access to a gun without adult permission.
  • During the 2009–10 school year, 43% of schools reported the presence of one or more security staff at their school at least once a week.

School Crime

How is this linked to emergencies? According to Pediatrics, by responding to disruption and crime, especially in urban/suburban areas, school administrations are developing better protection protocol for their students and are better prepared for disasters as a direct result. Bolstered relationships with local police and first responders also contribute directly to the safety and preparedness of the schools. Their likelihood to conduct lockdown and evacuation drills have increased, grant flow for implementing emergency management protocol has increased, and access control to the school is more structured with many students and faculty being required to wear ID—thus enhancing accountability. While administrators and faculty may be struggling to foster positive learning environments, their hard work is preparing the system to be protected against threats.

Tips:

  • It is important to have assigned evaluators on site to write down all incidents and observations during a drill. These will be used to improve safety function when the crisis team discusses lessons learned.
  • Carrying out a crisis team meeting after each criminal or emergency event is pivotal to recount all details amongst yourselves, and then follow-up with action plans.

Flooded: Keeping Your Business Out of Hot Water

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Fifteen inches of rain over the course of just a few days caused what is being described as a 1,000 year flood in the mountains of Colorado this past September.  Rainfall patterns turned rains into a biblical storm that ravaged the lands and forced unsuspecting residents out of their homes and a disaster proclamation. Now, while they rebuild, many wonder how they could have been prepared for something like this.

“The area has flooded before, but never like this.” With an increase in population in this country, paired with manmade and natural changes to the environment, we will see an abundance of climate-based devastation, yet the key is to find out how to be prepared. How do you prepare for a storm that had a .001 chance of occurring?

It WILL happen. This isn’t negativity, this is preparedness, and many people would rather believe the sun will always shine instead of invest in a gloomy uncertainty.  It can work to lessen the shock of the event, and allows people to think critically about their needs.

2013 Colorado Flood Photo Map - The Denver Post - Mozilla Firefox 1022013 113514 AM

Points on map reflect where flooding and damage occurred

Floods are the most expensive and widespread of all disasters. According to the Small Business Administration, businesses are more likely to flood than burn down, so it is vital to prepare now.

The following checklist from Agility Recovery will help keep your business afloat even if the worst happens. “The following resources and tools will help mitigate your risk and protect not only your business, but also the most critical element of your business – your people.”
Before the Flood

  • Review Emergency Plan with team, and key employees
  • Take all necessary steps to prevent the release of dangerous chemicals that might be stored on your property – locate main gas and electrical shut-offs and anchor all fuel tanks
  • Postpone any receipt of goods- deliveries, couriers, etc.
  • Contact insurance agent, discuss policy, etc.
  • Establish emergency communication method (Alert Notification System, phone tree, etc.); identify meeting place and time for all key employees in Crisis Management Team; create voicemail for when evacuated, or out of office, etc.
  • Update disaster recovery kits and begin crisis back-up procedures
  • Maintain accurate inventory of product on site
  • Use plugs to prevent floodwater from backing up into sewer drains, or install flood vents/or flood proof barriers
  • Stay tuned to local media & community messaging

During the Flood

  • Life safety is paramountBegin next phase of your business continuity plan
  • Send non-critical staff home
  • Raise elevators to the 2nd floor and turn off
  • Stay tuned to local media- evacuate when required
  • Take cell phones, charger, critical hardware, and emergency kits with you
  • Unplug electrical items before leaving
  • Consider your business phones and redirection to cell phones, an answering service, or Google Voice
After the Flood

  • Listen for news reports to learn whether the community’s water supply is safe to drink
  • Avoid floodwaters; water may be contaminated by oil, gasoline, or raw sewage – water may also be electrically charged from underground or downed power lines
  • Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded, roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car
  • Clean and disinfect everything that got wet, mud left from floodwater can contain sewage and chemicals
  • Implement DR plan, and monitor local authorities’ communication
  • Contact employees via determined method of communication and discuss next stepsContact your insurance agent
Your People

  • Ensure you have an emergency communication plan in place prior to the storm, evacuation, or threat
  • Have all employees, vendors, and client contact information on hand
  • During evacuation have a central point of contact for all employees, and ensure you know where your employees are located
  • Following the flood, notify all critical people of next steps, based on damage

Helping to Mitigate your Risk for Flood Interruption:

Do You Know the Terms?
•Flood Watch: Flooding is possible. Tune in to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
• Flash Flood Watch: Flash flooding is possible. Be prepared to move to higher ground; listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for information.
• Flood Warning: Flooding is occurring or will occur soon; if advised to evacuate, do so immediately.
Flash Flood Warning:  A flash flood is occurring; seek higher ground on foot immediately.
For more information about flood prevention visit www.floodsmart.gov.

Cyber Security: Growing Trends and How-To Protection

Blog_HeaderIn this day and age, technology is accelerating faster than most of us can keep up. For businesses, knowing how to not only how to utilize technology to its fullest extent, but to also protect yourself from cyber predators is a highly necessary tool to prevent attacks that compromise your system, and the loss that follows. Once a system is compromised, attackers can access and harvest data such as user credentials, and steal your data, emails, credentials, credit card information, and more. The clean-up that these issues would entail is difficult to estimate, but with responsibility and effort, it is preventable.

One of the new issues emerging now involves smart phones and tablets as a target for cyber attacks.

The latest: “New capabilities, such as Near Field Communication (NFC), will be on the rise in 2013 and will increase the opportunities for cyber criminals to exploit weaknesses. NFC allows smartphones to communicate with each other by simply touching another smart phone or being in close proximity to another smart phone with NFC capabilities or an NFC device. This technology is (also) being used for credit card purchases… Risks associated with using NFC include ‘eavesdropping’—through which the cyber criminal can intercept data transmission, such as credit card numbers—and transferring viruses or other malware from one NFC-enabled device to another.”

We want to not only be unafraid of technology threats, but embrace technology to the fullest, which is easy to do by following these Tips for 2013, from the Chief Information Security Officer, State of Texas:

•Enable encryption and password features on your smart phones and other mobile devices.

•Use strong passwords that combine upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters, and do not share them with anyone. Use a separate password for every account. In particular, do not use the same password for your work account on any other system.

•Disable wireless, Bluetooth, and NFC when not in use.

•Properly configure and patch operating systems, browsers, and other software programs. Do this not only on workstations and servers but mobile devices as well.

•Use and regularly update firewalls, anti-virus, and anti-spyware programs.

•Do not use your work email address as a User Name on non-work related sites or systems.

•Be cautious regarding all communications; think before you click. Use common sense when communicating with users you DO and DO NOT know. Do not open email or related attachments from untrusted sources.

•Don’t reveal too much information about yourself online. Depending on the information you reveal, you could become the target of identity or property theft.

•Be careful who you communicate with or provide information to on social media sites. Those friends or games might be looking to steal your information.

Have you been affected by cyber attackers? Tell us your story! Krapp@rem4.net

National Preparedness Month: CDC’s “Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse” Campaign Brings Preparedness Back from the Dead

September is National Preparedness Month, and REM4ed recommends checking your plan status in the Online Command to make sure that your school or business is prepared for potential natural or man made emergencies. However, the more interaction in preparedness planning, i.e. drills, exercises, post-discussions and consistent practice that takes place in the workforce, the better. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been running its most successful and clever campaign since 2011. It prepares you for the impending doom of the Zombie Apocalypse. CDC Director, Dr. Ali Khan notes, “If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack.” Giggles aside, the campaign is accompanied by useful preparedness guides and strategies, but above all: It makes preparedness fun! While practicing preparedness is a serious business, we can admit it needs a little spicing up from time to time. Safety and emergency meetings can be brought back to life, so to speak, by emergency exercises where your members of the staff are given a role in an emergency scenario. Examples can be found here.

Ensuring that school officials, students, business executives and our colleagues all know what to do in an emergency can also be made light by creating and giving a quiz based on preparedness training on crisis operations and procedures in case of the Zombie Apocalypse. Options may include in-case-of-intruder lockdown, early warning systems, emergency communications, quarantine, shelter-in-place protocol, and other crisis response exercises. Dressing up the principal or CEO as a zombie may also play a critical element to its success. Please note, while it’s being made light, taking the results seriously and noting areas that need work during your hotwash and how you will make changes in your preparedness training in your after action report, are key.

WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU! What do you do to keep your exercises fun? Email me a description, videos or photos of your fun exercise at krapp@rem4.net  and it could be featured in the next newsletter or blog!


Crisis Communications: Social Media Targets the Individual

Blog_HeaderIn the event of an emergency, many individuals are immediately drawn to knowing what the status is of the infrastructure that they rely on day-to-day. They may phone these establishments: energy companies, public works, schools, places of business and work, or if lines are down, explore the web at every chance. Today, social media has changed the face of updates in an emergency. We work together to inform our communities and interested members, often in 140 characters or less, which is the limit for single-box text messages and Twitter. It is important to remember that the internet provides information at a rate from multiple resources and therefore, may be difficult to separate what is true from what is false.

That said, our urgency in requiring and acquiring information is only as reliable as the source and that source’s ability to report accurate information. In order to acquire the most accurate information, social media can be used effectively by “friending” the source (Facebook) or “following” the Twitter account of your frequently-utilized businesses and critical infrastructure providers. These should include your city or county office, emergency operations center, school district, public works offices (especially energy and water companies) should they have media accounts. If you belong in one of these categories, please consider creating these pages to also participate in active community sharing and creating a space where you are able to control the true and pertinent information regarding your place of business.

Emergency preparedness and the corresponding ability to efficiently respond, requires quick communication and targets the individual. In a technological age, it seems that many may oversee the fact that certain persons may not be familiar with texting or other social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and therefore are not as adept at managing the information being transferred from person to person. As a prerequisite, emergency management systems may consider mandating that all crisis teams know how to use text messaging since these can be sent out in a mass-text and information can be communicated faster than by telephone.  If each crisis team member learns how to utilize these systems, they should also be trained to look for them in the event of an emergency. Granted, these messages are only useful if your phone is fully charged and cell service is available, but in most emergencies and even in some disasters, this may still be readily available to your population. Having a contingency plan in case this is not available is also pertinent to your response efficiency.

Social Media and Web Outlets to Consider:

Twitter:  See if your company or organization has a Twitter account. If you are a member of critical infrastructure in your town or city, having a one-stop feed for outgoing information during an emergency allows your members and patrons to know the updated status of business without having to call your call center or office.

Many will experience a considerable cut in calls, which can result in long hours and money spent while trying to deal with a response if they implement this strategy. They must not forget—and this is important—to let patrons know about the Twitter and/or Facebook accounts, and how it would be used during an emergency.

Facebook: Facebook can also serve as an outlet in the same regard. Some may prefer Facebook over Twitter, and accounts can be joined easily so that you post to one, and it shows up on the other: http://www.wikihow.com/Link-Facebook-to-Twitter

FEMA’s Rumor Control: For large-scale emergencies that would fall under FEMA’s jurisdiction, FEMA created a fact-checking site and it posts the fallacies from the correct information being spread about the status of the event and its aftermath: http://www.fema.gov/hurricane-sandy-rumor-control

The more people who are able to improve crisis communications through social media and texting from the source avoids the avid speculation and false claims that only add to anxiety within our communities during emergencies. Emergency responders can create a better sense of certainty and help soothe worry through frequent updates (so long as they do not impede the response process) and work together better through sharing information at a quick, individual level, eliminating the middle man’s interpretation.

REM4ed Plug: REM4ed’s Emergency Management software has a text messaging feature and Twitter account link-up to the system for crisis teams to communicate through the Mobile Command App on their phones.  http://www.appdemostore.com/demo?id=6721012

Fascinating, Flooding, Ferocious Storms: Summer Hazard Series Spotlight on Hurricanes

Blog_HeaderHere at REM4, those of us in the disaster/emergency field are likely to stay abreast of the latest storm formations on the www.nhc.noaa.gov  site and look for brooding tropical storms in the gulf, and carefully pay attention to whether a circle of clouds is showing hints of becoming a spiral, and wait with baited breath during the hot months for a potential hurricane.

In the Atlantic, hurricane season starts June 1, while in the Pacific it starts May 15. Both end on November 30. Mid-August is considered the beginning of the peak of the season—so here we are!

If you and your business are in a hurricane-prone area, then you have probably seen it happen time and time again. When hurricanes hit, communities may experience devastation, yet many choose to prepare to rebuild. More and more, due to climate change and sea level rise, this has become a hot topic: To rebuild or not to rebuild? Home is where you live, you work, where your community is, where your family and friends are, and dedication to sense of place is something that should be heavily considered when choosing recovery strategies. 

Hurricanes are called different names depending upon where they form. In fact, a hurricane is what the storm is called in the Atlantic Ocean. In the northwest Pacific Ocean, it’s called a typhoon. In the South Pacific and Indian oceans, it’s called a cyclone. The scientific name that’s acceptable for these storms across the world is “tropical cyclone.”

These storms aren’t going to get any easier. Here are some things you may not have the answers to that you should consider:

“Of small businesses that close because of a disaster, at least one in four will not reopen,” according to a previous statement from Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute.

What’s insurance for? Aren’t I supposed to be covered?

Insurance may not cover everything and counting on FEMA and insurance to bail you out of a hurricane doesn’t cover your full loss and expenditures unless you’re already paying a high premium on flood insurance. Other damage that occurs may be out-of-pocket, and if your community or business damage costs are high, you may be out of money for months or even years. Mitigation is another aspect to consider—windows leaking, old roof systems, computer damage, etc. all need to be taken into account for a business continuity plan.

When customers and clients are counting on you, what response and recovery plans do you have in order to assure they are tended to while you take care of personal costs at home and at your place of work? Business loss insurance coverage usually begins after a waiting period of about 72 hours and claims can take weeks for companies to estimate. $10,000/day in losses the first three days of waiting can come straight out of your business. Ouch.

There is business interruption coverage, which will help a business relocate and continue operating if its building is physically damaged, and contingent business interruption coverage, which can help a business if its major supplier or supply chain is damaged by the disaster. (courtesy of newspress.com: http://tiny.cc/z9pr1w)

At home: The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) has an online tool that helps calculate a rough estimate of how much flooding, by height of water, could cost a household. A home that spans 1,000 square feet with six inches of flooding could have total losses of $20,150. Those costs, which vary by state and by type of home, average $1,000 in cleaning, $150 for electrical and plumbing, $7,900 in wood and carpet repair, thousands of dollars more in appliance and furniture replacement, and $1,100 in repairing doors, base trim and windows. (courtesy of http://abcnews.go.com/Business/top-things-flooding-sandy/story?id=17616519)

Want to know your updated flood risk? Visit FEMA’s website at http://www.fema.gov/risk-analysis-helping-communities-know-their-natural-hazard-risk

Where There’s Smoke: Summer Hazard Series Spotlight on WILDFIRES!

Blog_HeaderWelcome to the Summer Hazards Series! We all know that things don’t really heat up until July and August anyhow, so we’re dedicating a few blogs to (mostly) natural disasters that tend to pop up when you especially wish they wouldn’t: during precious vacation time. Each summer, wildfires have become an inevitable form of destruction in the U.S. Since our wild lands provide beautiful scenery and boast a slower pace of life, these communities are growing as alternatives to the city to live and work. However, with increased population movement in these formerly less-populated areas, attention to emergency management, business continuity, and mitigation efforts should be increased to match the population risk.

In how many states do wildfires occur? In the past ten years, wildfires have burned and devastated over 5 million acres in California, Georgia, Florida, Utah, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, Nevada, North Carolina, Texas, Colorado, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Due to their unpredictable nature and ability to affect the homes and businesses of communities throughout the U.S., identifying measures to prepare for and protect communities from the looming threat of fire, and subsequent rains that may bring in flood waters, should be on the list of priorities for emergency managers.

You may think: I’m not in a wild land area- why should I know how wildfires can affect me?
Business continuity relies upon looking at the larger system. While many businesses may not be affected by wildfires directly, their consumers or business partners may. For example, many forested areas are residential due to seasonal recreation, and thus the population may increase only in certain seasons, thus creating a seasonally-reliant economy. In case of nearby devastation, there may be recreational hubs, homes, and businesses lost to members of these communities, and thus creating negative impact on a county-or-state-wide level.

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The Effect of Wildfires on Large Labor Markets, University of Oregon, Institute for a Sustainable Environment, 2012

According to FEMA, in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service, we provide the following descriptive resources:

Let’s get technical: How do wildfires spread?

Wildfires spread by radiation, convection and firebrands.

Radiation is the process by which wildfires heat up the surrounding area. This is similar to the way a radiator heats a room during the winter but at considerably higher temperatures. Radiant heat from a wildfire can ignite combustible materials from distances of 100 feet or more.

Flames often occur within columns of heat known as convection columns and can ignite anything flammable they contact. Typically, the flames in a convection column rise straight up, while cooling air descends and hot air rises in a cyclical pattern forming a column of looping heat.

However, winds can cause flames to rise diagonally, or even nearly horizontally, extending the reach of the flames. (Photo shows illustration of convection currents.)

The third way a wildfire spreads is through firebrands, which are burning materials that are blown by wind from one place to another. Winds can blow firebrands more than a mile away from their source, starting new fires wherever they land. (Photo shows firebrands being blown by winds.)

In addition to the three ways wildfires spread, there are three primary conditions that affect how quickly and with what intensity a wildfire spreads. They are:

  • Fuel
  • Weather
  • Topography

Fuel conditions refer to the amount, density, and flammability of fuel. Fuels are anything that will burn, including:

  • Vegetation—Whether a tree in the woods or a shrub in a garden, vegetation can fuel a wildfire.

Because dead plants burn very easily, the presence of dead vegetation increases the likelihood of a more intense and faster spreading wildfire.

Live, green, wet plant life does not burn easily and may slow a wildfire’s progress. However, in a wildfire, all vegetation can eventually act as fuel. The density of vegetation, or how close plants are to one another, can also impact the ability of a wildfire to spread.

  • Structures—Both the contents and the building materials used can greatly impact the spread of a wildfire. For example, a cedar-shake or wood-sided home will burn more quickly than a brick home.

The greater the structural density, or how close structures are to one another, the faster the wildfire will spread.

Weather has an impact on the spread of a wildfire. High temperatures, low humidity, and high winds increase the likelihood that a wildfire will spread from wildlands to inhabited areas. In contrast, cold, humid, and calm conditions inhibit a wildfire’s spread.

Even topography affects the speed at which a wildfire spreads. Wildfires move more quickly up a hill than down.

A wildfire moving up a slope causes hot gases to rise in front of it. The hot gases pre-heat and dry vegetation ahead of the wildfire, causing it to catch fire more rapidly. A grass fire can advance four times faster moving up a slope than on level ground.

Courtesy of: http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/courseOverview.aspx?code=IS-320

What can I do to prevent forest fires? Well, contrary to Smoky the Bear telling you that putting out your campfire is enough, the material your building is made from, the proximity of buildings to one another, and the amount of trees all play a part in assessing risk near your community. The fire manager in your town or area should be able to work with you to provide better insight into whether your building or those around you are at risk for wildfire hazards.

http://www.fs.fed.us/fire/safety/index.html

HazMat, Not Just a Fun Suit: Asking the Who, What, When, Where and Why in Hazardous Materials Safety

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Multiple agencies, not just those that house a laboratory, handle hazardous materials as a day-to-day duty and abide by a series of protective strategies put in place to emphasize safety and injury-protection. From chemistry classrooms to hospitals, chemical plants to college laboratories, the aspects behind safety all abide by the same principles of mitigation, prevention, and preparedness. These may include requiring protective glasses, lab coats, wearing gloves or other careful handling implementation, and takes place when standard operating procedures emphasize the actions to protect oneself from harm caused by chemical burns, contamination, or other injuries due to reaction.  By law, they must also keep a material safety data sheet (MSDS), a frequently-updated document that inventories chemicals and dictates how they must be stored and handled properly. Knowing not only how to handle these materials, but also why you should handle them safely, will better inform those working with the materials to be certain they are paying attention. Whether you work with these materials directly or in a building that houses them (as most do), materials safety is critical to ensuring system-wide safety in case of an emergency.

The following four steps should be performed in order to fully comprehend hazardous materials safety in the workplace:

Hazard assessments determine the type of health effects associated with exposure to a chemical.
Dose-response: Assess the relationship between exposure and health effects.
Determine the level of exposure and how it varies across uses and individuals.
Risk characterization: Combines exposure and dose-response to estimate risks to people.

In addition to this, a most recent National Science Foundation publication entitled, “Strengthening Toxic Chemical Assessments” recommends the following to ultimately ensure safety:

1. Identify and incorporate variability in human exposure and vulnerability into health assessments, so that all people are better protected.

2. When information is missing or unreliable, use science-based default assumptions that protect health, rather than waiting for more data, to speed up the chemical assessment and decision-making processes. There should be a clear set of criteria for when to depart from default assumptions.

3. In assessing the risk of chemicals, incorporate information about the potential impacts of exposure to multiple chemicals. Consider other factors, such as exposure to biological and radiological agents, and social conditions.

4. Because the population is exposed to multiple chemicals and there is a wide range of susceptibility to chemical exposures, it cannot be presumed that any—even low level—exposures are risk-free. It should be assumed that low levels of exposures are associated with some level of risk, unless there are sufficient data to contradict this assumption.

Sidenote: When I performed a risk assessment of St. John’s Parish in Louisiana after a recent flood disaster due to a hurricane, I was surprised to find that the Emergency Operations Center named terrorist attacks as a top-five risk to prepare for in the parish. Upon further evaluation, most industrial plants must plan for an unforeseen large-scale, low probability risk such as terrorism due to the potential of widespread devastation due to hazardous materials and infrastructure collapse (depending on the properties of production at the plant).

Answering the five W’s allows you think critically about how to ensure safety for staff in a hazardous materials context.

Who: Whose responsibility is it to ensure chemical safety? It varies, but being sensible in not only handing over protective covering, but practicing effective training on hazmat should be the top priority for those who may come in contact on a departmental level. Ensure that the trainings answer the rest of the questions posted here.

What: What does the chemical do? What causes a reaction? If it comes in contact with your skin, what happens? Are there long-term health effects of working with these materials?

When: Has the material been updated on a federal level for additional hazardous issues?  When was it last used?

Where: Where are the materials stored? Does it need to be in a fire/chemical storage cabinet? What state is the container in?

Why: To save a person from harm, and maintain the safety of the building. Knowledge is power, especially in case of large-or-small scale events or contamination, and you use good, updated information to inform facility-wide reliable procedures (or else they become useless).

If you have more ideas on how to ensure hazardous materials safety in the workplace, please let us know by posting a comment!

Higher Education and Emergencies: A Few Challenges of a Diverse System and the Importance of Participation

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We want to not only describe methods that will improve your emergency preparedness planning operations, but also provide the leading information for best practices and applications. Recently, the Department of Education’s Readiness for Emergency Management in Schools published a Guide to Developing High Quality Emergency Operations Plans: http://rems.ed.gov/docs/REMS_IHE_Guide_508.pdf. Here, we will explore the benefits of integrating participation in the first steps to creating an Emergency Operations Plan.

Higher Education Institutions produce complex systems of diverse people and locations within a given campus or inner-city campus that therefore provides a challenge to emergency management. What is the best way for higher education institutions to manage all four phases of emergencies and ensure safety?

  1. Colleges occupy multiple buildings over a sizeable geographic area
  2. Working with complex enterprises such as administrative and classroom buildings, residences, hospitals, research and development facilities, sports arenas, and more
  3. Are occupied by differing amounts of diverse people who physically migrate throughout different buildings over the course of the day (faculty, staff, students, tour groups, etc.)
  4. Building materials and infrastructure within a building is most likely different for each structure on campus
  5. Multi-purpose facilities: i.e. Laboratories house sensitive chemical materials in research facilities that may also share classroom and administrative space
  6. Governance is often decentralized and operated individually within each department
  7. Events may bring in an additional tens of thousands more people for a few hours at a time, multiple times per month

These multi-variable complex situations automatically increase an institution’s vulnerability to risks because it makes evaluating risk an all-the-more difficult task to perform when the patterns of use and systems change depending on the semester. Yet these don’t have to be insurmountable and each unit within the institution must be tasked with evaluating its own independent risks and hazards. The importance of creating an Emergency Operating Plan (EOP) must be mandated from the top of the institution and implemented campus-wide in order to adequately reach the total population. Many schools are beginning to require departmental audits for completion of emergency planning, drills and exercises, and consistent crisis team meetings. Huzzah!

In order to create the EOP based on these complex risks and hazards, participation should be utilized to produce a representative sample of the population who would be affected in an emergency.  First, you should know the college’s overall demographics, keeping in mind groups including restricted mobility and mentally challenged persons. Students, parents, staff and faculty should all be represented on the team, “as well as those from diverse racial, ethnic, linguistic, and religious backgrounds, including international student populations, so that specific concerns will be included from the early stages of planning,” (p. 7).

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How do you to recruit volunteers for a planning team that addresses concerns and needs for their population? You can advertise for volunteers, describe the importance of school security, and make announcements about upcoming meetings. Have first responders and local emergency managers present to encourage discussion about the risks and hazards, incident command systems, protocol and safety.

Emergency 101 Tip: Hold meetings regularly and start by creating goals for each area extracted from guided discussion within the group. These select people are informing your crisis team. The crisis team is who will set up your incident command system and serve as the contacts for the EOP, and should be paid staff. The participatory group should serve as your Checks and Balances feedback agents. They will make sure that the systems implemented are covering each base at every level, and should review all EOP documents.