Disaster Planning and Recovery – Part 1 of 2

While we may not all be susceptible to four major hurricanes during the course of six weeks, we do all share the possibility of other forms of emergencies on our campuses.

How we are set up to deal with these events can be the difference between a major loss of some sort, or tremendous success in the face of adversity.

There are a number of questions we need to ask ourselves before we can truly know if we have placed our campuses in a position to properly address an emergency. How prepared is your campus to handle an emergency? Is the plan thorough and does it take the process of planning, implementing and recovery full circle? Are all of those involved in the emergency process up to speed on their area of responsibility? Does the plan include contingencies?

What constitutes an emergency or a disaster? We can safely say that any issue that may pose a detrimental effect to our campus community would be considered a situation we want to address. Samplings of possible emergencies are hurricanes, tornados, ice storms, extended power outages, fires, civil unrest and terrorist attacks.

The Plan: We must start by making sure that there is a plan in place to address any emergencies that may come along. Without one, we have no basis for how the school will handle an emergency. If there is no plan in place for your facility, know that there are many existing plans out there and a simple request on a networking site such as the APPA listserv may result in receiving several different plans from which to build your own. No two campuses are exactly alike, so be certain to take the time to tailor the plan to your facility… you know what will and won’t work for your campus and the team you assemble. To be fully effective, all plans must be “full circle,” starting at the planning, preparation and implementation phases and finishing with the recovery and resumption of business phases. A plan that does not end with a resumption of business or services phase is an incomplete plan.

The Team: Our team consists of a number of campus departments. We are made up of representatives from facilities, residential life, human resources, safety and security, provost’s and president’s office, and registrar’s office to name a few. With this campus cross section, we are able to get the vision of how each part of campus typically operates in order to ensure that our planning for an event we know is about to happen (IE: hurricane), or has just happened (IE: fire), is complete and thorough. During times of high stress, we tend to get tunnel vision and think solely about what“planning, preparing, implementing and recovering” means to our specific area of responsibility. Having contrasting points of view helps round out the decision-making process and ensure that each campus community“customer” is receiving the proper amount of attention.

Implementation: In the case of a hurricane, we have time to run around and put up shutters, remove loose objects, bring in recovery supplies and evacuate students. In the case of sudden emergencies, the preparations need to have already been made, and the campus community already understands what to do when the tornado siren or fire alarm goes off. Preparation for any event should be done as part of an ongoing process that maintains a stock of the proper supplies to allow for recovery efforts to begin immediately after a catastrophic event.

In addition, training is an important aspect to the implementation phase of the plan. Training can be such a difficult task on a college campus with the ebb and flow of faculty, staff, students and visitors. Therefore, the core emergency management team members must be trained to such a degree that response to the emergency is second nature; their leadership during or immediately after such an event is extremely critical to the success of following through with the plan. In cases of emergencies, most people will immediately look for and recognize someone who is clearly in charge and will follow their lead and commands. Educated leadership will help ensure minimal damage, injury or loss of life during a catastrophic event. Remember, no amount leadership will stop such an event from happening, but it is what we do with the resources we have to work with before, during and after an event that will point to success or failure in managing an event.

This brings us to a point of recovery. When an emergency event is imminent, is happening or has already happened, what we do during the recovery and business resumption phases can be critical and will be covered as Part 2 of this article in the March issue. Remember, if your facility does not have a plan in place, it is a good idea to start the process of creating one.

As facilities managers, somehow we are the ones people look to in order to handle the tough tasks, or even those that no one wants to do. Step up to the task and be ready for anything.

Michael G. Steger is director of Physical Plant Services for National Management Resources Corp. at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Michael G. Steger is director, Physical Plant, for Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa, FL. He can be reached at [email protected]