Every college and university has unique challenges when it comes to managing emergencies on campus. Having the right key personnel on campus during an emergency and an effective emergency response plans in place help to mitigate potential issues.
In September 2018, Hurricane Florence struck the Southern coast of the United States. The storm was Category 4 strength with 140 mile-an-hour strength winds, hitting the shore with storm surges and periods of extreme flooding, as per the New York Times. One million people were ordered to evacuate across eight counties in North and South Carolina, and this includes college campuses on the coast. For other higher ed institutions in the state where evacuation was not necessary, there were safety precautions and procedures put in place by essential personnel.
The evacuation and storm preparation efforts on college and university campuses required coordination among students, faculty, and staff. In order to manage safety for these individuals, it was important for the campus administration to have the appropriate workers on site. The storm emphasizes the need for disaster planning on campus amid growing weather and other disaster risks, and provides a useful case study on determining key figures to have on site during an emergency of this scale.
Every college and university will have unique challenges and the process as far as choosing the workers to handle an emergency situation. Furthermore, some colleges may choose to rank these instances based on risk. For example, Notre Dame has an emergency classification system to determine risk and dispatch the appropriate response. The system ranges from Type 1, which includes incidents where there is no damage to people or property such as minor injuries, power outages, minor equipment or facility problems, to Type 4, which includes an incident or series of incidents that requires outside assistance from local public safety teams such as bomb threats, prolonged power outages that disrupt network or communications system, or structural failure in an occupied building.
The “key personnel” are workers who are required to remain in the area to make sure operations run smooth and the community is safe during an emergency or a period of suspended operations. In order to make this decision, the campus must undergo a two-part process.
The first is to create an effective process for choosing who is essential on campus, which can be done through an executive committee, emergency preparedness work group, or human resources group on campus. The second part is implementing these parameters to make informed decisions during a high-stakes scenario. Every college or university will have their own measures to decide if employees have the skills and abilities to maintain operations during a disaster, taking into account the school’s needs and the nature of the emergency.
How To Determine Key Personnel During A Disaster
Instead of instituting a generic list of required employees, it might be more practical for the college or university to defer to an emergency communications and response plan. By evaluating the critical functions needed during the emergency, administrators can better understand the skills needed by employees. If there is to be a campus closure, it’s important to only keep key workers on site based on the function of the job rather than merely their job title.
Every continuity plan should accommodate for each potential disaster situation and evaluate which personnel can best address the campus needs. These scenarios include hurricanes or extreme storms, winter weather, power outages, public health emergencies, bomb threats or other assailants on campus. It’s best for first responders to plan for these situations by making a comprehensive safety plan with provisions for each situation to understand who is an absolute necessity on campus. The closures and essential personnel become a starting point for managing emergency operations that be modified based on the school’s needs based on geography, organization, and other unique factors.
Hurricane Florence provides a helpful use case for school safety managers creating an emergency communications plan. During the storm, the Medical University of South Carolina managed to keep operations running due to a crisis management team and a mass notification system called Rave Alert. MUSC leverages the system to send notifications to the 23,400 members of its campus community, which proves especially essential life safety incidents such as active shooters, earthquakes, and severe weather. The university used the system to send out three-times-daily messages discussing the impending hurricane and providing community members, including essential personnel, with resources to help them prepare and stay safe
There are several other types of emergency situations that might require a university to reduce staff to essential personnel. These include public health emergencies, which vary in definition based on individual states. A few potential public health situations might include incidents of flooding, severe weather, widespread illness such as the H1N1 breakout of 2009, or the opioid epidemic. The departments to look toward for key personnel during a public health emergency include medical professionals such as doctors and nurses, campus or local police, environmental health and safety workers, and housing management teams.
The circumstances may be different across the United States, but every college or university is likely to experience some sort of weather challenges. There are several departments that are critical during winter weather, storm surges, or other weather-related emergencies. The first is utilities to maintain on-campus power and building security, dining hall workers to provide and prepare meals for students and other campus residents, maintain dispatch services with medical response capability, and data or IT services to keep networks running during the inclement weather.
How Technology Can Reach Key Personnel
During Hurricane Florence, officials believe that technology made a significant impact. The number of residents who signed up for text message alerts that included updates about water levels and flooding increased significantly. These sign-ups increased eight-times over from those during Hurricane Matthew, which hurt the same area during 2016.
A mass notification system can be helpful across campus, informing residents of crucial updates as the storm develops. The system can not only provide a line of communication between emergency responders and students, but it can also improve safety for essential personnel on campus during the storm. As storms become increasingly unpredictable, powerful emergency communications become even more essential.
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