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.

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Getting Out of a Bind: Why Paper Emergency Operating Plans DON’T WORK!

ImageMany industries find facility-wide process changes difficult to implement. This is especially true if their Emergency Operations System has never been compromised in an emergency. Oftentimes, there may only be one master binder with hard copies of important documents alongside the Emergency Operating Plan. The use of the crisis binder that sits on a shelf collecting dust is a thing of the past. The prioritization of emergency planning in each industry is a growing one, as disasters are growing more common, demanding schools, the health sector, airports, and infrastructural public works and other industries, keep crisis binders active in their updating and implementation of their contingency exercises and drills. In our previous blog on crisis binders, we discussed why it is important to have one. Today, I want to highlight why it’s important to keep it updated with easy-to-access software and synch it to a mobile application for your phone or iPad, such as the one we offer here at REM4TM. By taking a proactive, technological approach, you will have access to the documents and plans you need to pull you out of a BIND in an emergency.

Top 10 Reasons Paper EOPs DO NOT WORK

1.     Emergency Operating Plans (EOPs) are meant to be living documents with consistently updated information based on the ever-changing needs of its users; paper EOPs are static, allowing the information to become outdated upon review.

2.     Bulky paper EOPs serve more as a tick in a box for compliance than a strategic plan that is actively utilized.

3.     Paper plans are often misplaced, locked in someone’s office, or placed on a shelf and not reviewed regularly; making updating changes to distributed copies a logistics challenge and leading many to forget or misinform important updates when it is time to review.

4.     Updating paper plans periodically rather than updating as needs arise incurs a large use of staff time and cost associated with the collection of information, printing and distribution. 

5.     You can’t easily forward or send a paper EOP to others during response, nor can you read the content in severe weather or darkness.

6.     If all staff were not included in the latest distribution, in the event of an emergency this would leave employees vulnerable and without instructions.

7.     Size matters! During an emergency evacuation, staff is unlikely to take a paper EOP, while their iPads, laptops and/or smart phones are already in their bag as they’re headed out the door.

8.     When your facility is impacted by a catastrophic event, such as tornado, hurricane, or wild fire, paper EOPs and the computers they’re saved to, may be destroyed.

9.     Paper EOPs are strategic documents that are not typically “user friendly” and staff may be unfamiliar with its organization. If you have to collect pieces of information during or after an emergency situation, it may impede your recovery by months or even years. 

10.  The nature of constructing paper EOPs do not allow for a complete backup of all plans, checklist, photos, maps and workflows to exist in one place.

 

This is not to say that having hard copies of documents isn’t good to have in addition to a software approach, we just want to promote one that beckons you to think critically about the amount of information required by FEMA and other response institutions should you need it as efficiently as possible.  Documentation of insurance forms, property information, staff information, recent repair work (to help estimate value), inventories, floor plans, etc., may take up several hundred sheets of paper. Factor in the plan itself and you may realize by weight alone will lead you to a technological approach that values your time, energy, and likelihood of utilization, leading to a safer workplace for everyone.

Please contact info@rem4ed.com if you have questions about products and information today!

Kali Rapp, REM4ed Emergency Preparedness and Technology Blog Contributor