EFFECTIVE EMERGENCY PLANNING FOR COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES

BY GREG HAYES

Do you have a university, college, or large educational campus in your response jurisdiction? If so, do you have an emergency response plan to deal with emergencies on those campuses? Campuses typically are imbedded in small, medium, and large communities and are sometimes covered under a “global” plan, which may overlook hazards specific to educational facilities.

Many cities and counties have an Emergency Operations Plan (EOP). These plans take into account many different types of incidents that can occur in a jurisdiction. However, some plans lack a full understanding of the types of hazards in and around an educational setting. In the fire service, we typically develop prefire plans, which can come in various forms. They may be as simple as an unsophisticated drawing of a building or as complex as computer-driven software programs that include photos and other critical information. Unfortunately, these prefire plans are looked at as plans to be used strictly for fires, and many fire officers don’t see their applicability for other uses.

Overall, the reason we plan is to define roles, clarify operations, and identify resources.

WHY PLAN?

We plan to ensure that we are going in the right direction and getting to our expected destination. We develop a road map for dealing with a particular problem. We acquire the resources to support the plan, and we execute the plan through training, exercises, or actual incidents.


(1) This 2004 fire in the University of Minnesota Smith Hall organic chemistry lab was determined to be arson.
(Photo by author.)

If you look at any of the national fire and life safety codes, you will see that they have planning requirements built into them. Your local fire code, for example, requires emergency evacuation planning and planning for hazardous materials in the community. Federal law requires that local agencies develop and implement emergency plans. The most obvious of these regulations are those that pertain to the handling and storage of hazardous materials and responding to incidents involving them.

Recently, the Texas legislature passed the “School District’s Crisis Readiness State Mandate,” which mandates emergency planning and has established dates for compliance. The bill stipulates that a multihazard plan for each school be developed and that the plan be practiced. I believe this is only the beginning and that more states will be passing stricter laws for emergency planning at schools.

From a fire service perspective, the most basic reason we need to plan is to set an example for our customers. What messages do we give our customers in regard to fire safety? We tell them to have a plan that includes how to evacuate the house in an emergency and actions they should take when the smoke detector goes off. We recommend that residents and schools hold fire drills. Our customers look on us as the “experts” of planning.

EMERGENCY OPERATIONS PLANS

An EOP looks at the whole picture. Its basic components are hazard and risk assessment, plan development, training and communicating the plan, and revising the plan. Typically, an EOP has a number of annexes that pertain to various types of responses and appendixes covering specific operations.

As an example, an EOP for a university defines the role of key university/college departments during a specific type of disaster. The plan may include a university (campus) incident commander (management system) facility management group, an environmental health and safety group, a law enforcement group, and a public relations group, in addition to the local emergency response agency’s incident command system (ICS). University department representatives can be helpful to responders because they can provide critical information responders need to operate safely at the scene.

Often, these liaison campus committee members are selected from campus law enforcement and security, which oversee and enforce the university’s emergency plans. When preplanning with the university, become acquainted with the campus’ internal response system and discuss a unified command system and plans for implementing one at emergencies. Identify each agency’s role, and create a basic response plan that reflects how emergency incidents will be managed and how decisions will be made. If you are not successful in establishing contact with the university law enforcement or security department, ask the campus chief administrative officers to help you.

After establishing which individuals will represent the campus in the emergency plan, create opportunities for sharing information with them. Invite them to learn about your agency; arrange to visit the campus. Conduct a basic hazard/risk assessment. Take advantage of opportunities to meet staff members and to conduct training. Don’t assume that the initial meeting will be sufficient to establish the type of relationships that will foster cooperation and trust in an emergency and will resolve any “territorial” issues that may arise. Be courteous and respectful, and look for opportunities that will help you develop cooperation between your agency and the university.

HAZARD AND RISK ASSESSMENT

Educational institutions have a large population in a concentrated area. The University of Minnesota, for example, has more than 60,000 individuals (students, staff, and faculty) in a small concentrated area within the city of Minneapolis.

Campus characteristics or activities that could be involved in emergency situations and should be addressed in the EOP include large sporting events that are nationally televised, the use and storage of hazardous materials, federal and nonfederal research that may be targeted by protestors, and dormitories.

Emergency planning involves identifying the types of hazards that are threats to campus community populations. The incidents might include tornados, hurricanes, ice storms, and other weather-related phenomena. Manmade threats would include fires, hazardous materials releases, riots, missing persons, terrorist activity, and hostage situations.

An EOP should include preplans for all potential emergencies to which your agency might respond, referred to as “all-hazards planning.”

Hazardous-Materials Release

Universities have a high potential for releases of hazardous materials. Following is an excerpt from the University of Minnesota’s EOP Annex M-“Hazardous Materials.” It focuses on the administration’s function and involves multiple university departments and the local fire department (see “Annex M-Hazardous Materials Protection-Administration,” below).

In today’s world, where terrorism is a major concern, colleges and universities could be targets of terrorism or the base for terrorists. Many larger educational institutions in the country have large stadiums or arenas that can hold thousands of participants and spectators. Security at these events must be increased, and individuals must undergo basic screening procedures to prevent situations such as a suicide bombing. An excellent example of security procedures that worked is the attempted suicide bombing at an Okalahoma football game in October 2005.

Colleges/universities that engage in medical research or genetic engineering involving plants are potential targets of environmental protection groups. These groups most commonly use sabotage and fire as their weapons. Improvements in security and the installation of fire sprinklers have somewhat diminished the effectiveness of these approaches, causing these groups to switch to the tactics of improvised explosive devices and secondary devices.

Ask the institution’s Environmental Health and Safety Department if activities that might attract these activist groups are taking place on campus. The department should know the types of chemicals that can be found on campus, their uses, and their locations. Look to see if the school receives federal research grants in the medical, chemical, or bioengineering fields. Millions of dollars of federal and private funds are available to institutions in these areas of research. Many institutions publicly list their annual grant awards, which can also guide you in this area.

Colleges and universities might also be a source of knowledge for individuals who might want to use chemicals and agents for terrorism purposes. To protect our institutions from becoming sources of such knowledge, a complete background check must be done on researchers who use toxic substances or work with select biological agents. Michael T. Osterholm, Ph.D., and John Schwartz, in their book “Living Terrors: What America Needs to Know to Survive the Coming Bioterrorist Catastrophe” describe in detail how one college student with a little bit of knowledge can inflict great harm on a large population.

Disaster Plan for Students

Another major area that needs preplanning on campuses is how to meet students’ needs during a disaster. Called “Congregate Care,” the plan addresses moving, housing, and feeding students during a disaster. Universities should have for all of its dormitory students an alternate location where they can stay for an extended time if necessary. Sometimes, the school’s Residential Life Department has a list of alternate housing locations on file. The list may include local hotels, other dorms, and evacuation shelters. The Red Cross can help you with this type of planning.

PLAN DEVELOPMENT

The EOP should be developed in conjunction with officials from each campus department. As an example, campus law enforcement leaders could write the security and traffic control section of the plan.

Basic Plan

The first part of an EOP is the Basic Plan, which identifies the types of hazards covered in the plan and, most importantly, identifies the command and control system during an incident. On the signature page of this section, senior department officials covered in the plan and executive staff members who oversee the organization indicate their approval of the plan by signing the document in ink. Cities and counties will adopt the plan through resolutions or other formal means.

Annex Sections

Administration. The first section of an annex is the administration section, which identifies the lead agency in operations pertaining to that specific annex. A list of other departments that support the operations may also be included. [Scott Gerber, Carver County (MN) emergency management director, recommends using a different color for each section.]

Operations. The second section of an annex is “Operations,” which is the game plan for a specific operation (the Hazardous Materials annex, for example, would contain your response plan for a haz-mat incident). Described in this section are the types of hazards anticipated, ways to mitigate or reduce the risks associated with them, and the locations on campus where these hazards might be encountered.

Resource. The final section of an annex is the resource section. This is where you identify the resources a department would use to assist in the response to the operations identified in the annex. This resource section may include the type and number of resources available along with 24-hour contact information. One key point here is to list only resources that know they are being placed in your EOP. One common error is to list a resource from the phone book and never check to see if the individual can provide the service you have identified in your plan.

To summarize, when developing the EOP, strive to have a consistent framework. For the overall plan, there is a basic plan and a warning/notification section. Annexes are divided into the three sections listed above.

TRAINING AND COMMUNICATION

Training and communication are the most critical components of the planning process. Make sure that all parties that may respond to an incident covered by the plan understand their roles within the plan and the annexes. One way to do this is to hold small group meetings or training sessions.

The next step is to use tabletop exercises to test the plan. All affected agencies should participate in the exercises; this will ensure that all responders, from the campus and outside the campus, will be integrated into one operation. These exercises help each participating agency to identify and understand its role in specific scenarios. Many times, we assume that other agencies have resources or the ability to take care of a specific operation and then find that our assumptions were not entirely accurate.

Such exercises can help establish how decisions will be made during the emergency incident. One such decision would be whether to evacuate or close the campus. Who would make this call? In a unified command system, this decision would be made by key decision makers of the affected departments and agencies (possibly by a conference call). For most universities, this decision is not taken lightly because of the impact on students who travel to campus and the effect on research/educational projects that would be interrupted. This decision would be easier to make if relationships among the parties involved in the plan were developed through training before the emergency.

The final phase of the training plan is a full-scale exercise, which brings all responders together and demonstrates each agency’s ability to respond in accordance with the plan.

One key item to consider when developing an EOP is the continuity of operation if your EOC is affected by the emergency. Having a backup EOC and plan are essential components of the planning process.

Hold critique training sessions and incidents immediately after completion to determine what went right and what could be improved. A “hot wash” survey among random individuals in different groups followed by an after-action review (AAR) among all participants are two methods of critiquing. The AAR typically is done in an open forum format. Maintain a written log of all issues identified. Revise your EOP as necessary, and return to the training and communication phase of your planning process.

REVISION OF THE PLAN

In this final phase of the process, update your operations and resources section. The other sections usually do not change as frequently. Most emergency planning revisions are done on a one- to four-year cycle basis. Revise your plan annually to ensure that all the individuals listed and their contact information are current.

OTHER PLANNING CONSIDERATIONS

One of the most debatable issues concerning EOPs is whether the EOP is a public or a nonpublic document. Originally, EOPs were considered public documents. Since September 11, 2001, many agencies have protected their EOPs, claiming that they contained security-sensitive information. However, the public sometimes still wants to see the EOP and cite their rights under the “Freedom of Information Act.” The solution is to have a public version of your EOP that can be made available to everyone. Removing the Operations and Resources sections from the annex almost completely makes the document safe for public distribution. Allowing the public to see your EOP adds a level of credibility to your organization and ensures your customers that you really are prepared.

Make your plan user friendly. Would you use a paper plan at 3 a.m. during an incident? Our plans are on our bookshelves in the office. The computer-driven format opens up a wide range of possibilities. Universities typically have a facilities management department or an engineering department that has computer-based floor plans that can be electronically added to your plans through a hyperlink. Floor plans for every building can be at your fingertips anytime you want them.

Also, if you find a good document on a specific topic, you may want to add this as a hyperlink instead of retyping the entire document into your EOP. Through simple Web page-designed programs, you can take your plan off the paper and bring it into a format that is more user friendly for field operations. If you don’t have the skills to do this within your organization, look to the university’s computer science department. You probably will find a student who needs a project for a class and is willing to assist you in planning-usually for a pizza or two.

PLANNING ASSISTANCE

If you are starting this venture from scratch or are looking to improve your current plans, don’t reinvent the wheel; look to others for help. In addition to the National Fire Protection Association and U.S. Fire Administration, a few other groups can provide some assistance specifically related to educational institutions. Among them are the following:

  • The Center for Campus Fire Safety (http://www.campusfire.org). This site has a lot of interesting data and reports to assist you, specifically regarding fires.
  • The Minnesota Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Its Emergency Planning and Procedures Guide for Schools focuses on K-12 schools but can be modified to fit any educational institution.
  • The International Association of Chief Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) (http://www.iaclea.org). It has an excellent resource for developing an EOP specifically for a college or university. In fact, all the hard work has been done for you. A model EOP that has all of the annexes and requires only that you modify it to fit your specific institution is in its final preparation. Also, it has a model threat assessment designed around university hazards. You will have to gain access to the secure site, but you will find it well worth the time to get the access privileges.
  • www.nimsonline.com. Model EOPs can easily be downloaded from this site.

• • •

Keep the end user in mind when developing your EOP. If you don’t make the plan user friendly, it will not be used. Create a plan that can be used as an administrative, training, and operational document. Don’t take the hazards associated with an educational institution lightly. Some unique hazards can quickly pose a great challenge to your organization. Recognize the hazards, and plan to protect your customers and yourself from these hazards.

GREG HAYES is assistant director of emergency management for the University of Minnesota.

Annex M-Hazardous Materials Protection-Administration

 

Overview

The Department of Environmental Health and Safety (DEHS) has the responsibility of evaluation, inspection, education, and regulatory action for the University in areas of health, safety, and the environment. In the fulfillment of this responsibility, there is a necessary component directed to mitigation of emergencies. There are four divisions of DEHS:

  • Industrial Hygiene & Safety Division
  • Radiation Protection Division
  • Public & Occupational Health Division
  • Hazardous Waste Division

Emergency Incidents of Concern and Response

  • Hazardous Chemicals
  • Radioactive Materials
  • Biological/Infectious Agents
  • Fire-arson or accidental
  • Explosion-human caused or accidental
  • Major accidents-personal injury or property damage
  • Public Health
  • Act of Terrorism, involving hazardous materials

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 471, Recommended Practice for Responding to Hazardous Materials Incidents, Section 3.3.13, defines an “Emergency” as “A fire, explosion or hazardous condition that poses an immediate threat to the safety of life or damage to property.”

Responsibilities

Primary: The initial responsibility of the University of Minnesota Police Department (UMPD) is to provide direction and control at incidents involving the release of a hazardous material. In conjunction with UMPD, the Department of Environmental Health and Safety (DEHS) will provide direction, evaluation, and mitigation at a release of a hazardous material. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) will be implemented at every scene.

Supporting: If the incident is beyond the capabilities of DEHS, then the local fire department will be requested. Through the local fire department, a haz mat team from the State of Minnesota may also be utilized. Outside agencies will follow their specific operational guidelines and EOPs while operating at a University of Minnesota facility.

During incident operations, representatives from the local agencies as well as representatives from the University of Minnesota will use a Unified Command System to stabilize, mitigate, and recover from incidents involving the release of a hazardous material.

Emergency Management personnel may be used at hazardous materials emergencies to assist in the coordination of response agencies and to provide support to the command post.

A. At the University of Minnesota campuses, the following officials will recommend evacuations:

  1. Fire Chief or designee-fire/radiological/haz-mat incidents
  2. Police Chief or designee-all other
  3. University Officer of the Day

B. The Police Department will be responsible for

  1. Providing and coordinating security in the affected areas of a critical incident and evacuation areas to protect private and public property.
  2. Providing security in the affected incident area and evacuation area to ensure the personal safety of the public and emergency response personnel.
  3. Providing security to congregate care facilities as resources are available and required.
  4. Providing assistance and coordination of evacuations requested by the affected Municipal Emergency Responders.
  5. Providing traffic control for critical incidents and all evacuations.
  6. Providing coordination of assistance to evacuated individuals with disabled vehicles and mobility-impaired persons.
  7. Providing assistance and coordination of any subsequent criminal investigation including evidence preservation and collection, crime scene processing, interviewing and interrogation, and other investigative functions.

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