Safety & Security (Prepare and Be Aware)

Ten Steps to Proactive Emergency Management

Proactive Emergency Management


The scenario: You are a campus security director at a small university, where there is no risk manager or dedicated emergency management (EM) staff. At your check-in with the vice president of Student Affairs, you are told that you are also responsible for the EM program, but you have little budget set aside. You sense there is little support from the top for spending money on EM.

Do any of you see yourself here?

So what do you do?

In this article I’ll present 10 steps that, if executed over a 24-month period, will successfully implement a basically effective EM program that is well on its way to compliance with recognized standards.

The first step is to assess the situation that you just inherited. What pieces of an EM program do exist? How do the other university staff stakeholders think of emergency management and the status of the program on campus? Talk to the university’s Public Relations staff, legal counsel, Facilities staff and Student Health and get a sense of their planning concerns in their departments. Review university policies and plans. Is there an approved Emergency Operations Plan (EOP)? It might be called by a different name, such as Crisis Management Plan or Emergency Management Plan. How supportive are the university executives of emergency management?

You also need to ensure you are up to speed on emergency management principles, language and terminology. Read the foundational emergency management documents from FEMA. Know what the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) are all about. Check out and the ICS Resource Center at In concert with other federal agencies, FEMA has developed a helpful “Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Institutes of Higher Education,” available at

Learn who are the stakeholders: from key university officials to on-campus personnel, to local residents and community leaders and first responders. Also learn who are your allies, so you can recruit them to help build your program. They might not be the department heads, but can be movers and shakers lower in the organization who share your passion for this program.

Then create a vision that is reasonable but stretches beyond your current resources and capabilities. Where do you want the program to be in three to four years? Do any of the emergency management certifications make sense for your situation? Perhaps starting with some levels of national or state individual certifications is a good initial aim point. Consider FEMA’s Professional Development Series of seven online courses, or the more Advanced Professional Series (APS) Certificate. Later, you can chase The International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) certifications as Certified Emergency Manager or Associate Emergency Manager.

Consider using an assessment schema such as the American Red Cross Ready Rating™, FEMA’s Ready Business, or more rigorous PS-PREP™. The latter program provides a mechanism for a private-sector entity such as a university to receive a certification from an accredited third party that it is in compliance with a private-sector preparedness standard adopted by DHS. There are currently three standards recognized by DHS:

  • ASIS International SPC.1-2009
  • British Standards Institution (BSI) ISO 22301
  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1600

However, before you reach for the stars, you must meet the minimum legal federal and state requirements under safety and environmental laws and regulations. Confer with your legal counsel and compliance officer. Make sure you understand the staff responsibilities for compliance. Know what is in your “swim lane.” Start with federal OSHA Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1910, which covers occupational safety and health.

Assess your university’s capabilities using a SWOT analysis. This process looks at four aspects: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in relation to your organization’s ability to develop an effective emergency management program. What existing strengths can you build on? Are there trained personnel or standard operating procedures (SOPs) that are effective in responding to or mitigating a disaster? Identify what weaknesses you must address. Are they organizational, programmatic or budgetary? Every underperforming program has opportunities to improve and there are external resources you leverage, such as state grants. Lastly, what threats keep you from improving? Are there organizational misalignments or overlapping authorities at your school?

Next, consider what kind of external support you can leverage. Focus any external spending on consultants on very specific areas. Maintain the overall management of the effort but recognize that using a carefully selected consultant can bring needed expertise and manpower to accomplish certain tasks that you probably will never have the time to complete by yourself. Look at your SWOT analysis; maybe you contract out the Risk Assessment work, or how best to implement new technology for communications and alerts. Your state Emergency Management Agency may have state contracts that allow you to order services from preapproved consultants.

Assessing the particular risks that threaten the safety of your university must drive your planning efforts. Start with the local government’s risk assessment. Your county or city will almost assuredly have one. This assessment should identify the natural, technological and man-made threats in your community. Then, with that coalition of the willing you recruited, as well as key stakeholders, you can tailor the knowledge of those threats to your university, evaluating vulnerabilities in order to determine the true risk. There are a number of subjective and numerical processes to rank the risks so you can ensure your plans respond to them and mitigate the higher risks.

Communications during a crisis is one area that is so critical that its failure can overshadow the real threat of the event. The expectations brought on by the explosion of social media and recent violent campus shootings have compressed the response time a university has to warn, notify and keep informed the various populations affected in a campus crisis, especially a no-notice event like an active shooter. Legal requirements like the Clery Act and OSHA regulations place heavy demands on a campus. Crisis communications planning must address pre-crisis, crisis and post-crisis situations. This planning crosses departmental stovepipes from Public Relations to IT to Facilities to the university president.

By following the previous steps, you can begin now to draft a rough emergency operations plan (EOP). My key recommendation here is to aim for the 70 percent solution and include a multi-year training and exercise plan (TEP) rather that work for your first plan to cover everything and then not be able to do drills or exercises. EOP templates can be misused but, if you are careful, they can give you a good framework to develop a plan tailored to your own requirements. Some states have templates for institutes of higher education (IHE). This step will take several months and could benefit from external support to keep the effort on track.

Leveraging local government agencies should not be overlooked. Include law enforcement, fire departments, EMS, health departments and emergency management officials, building bridges of cooperation and exchange. Offer university facilities for training and exercises. Consider hosting a workshop on emergency management planning or offer a site to state officials or FEMA for one of their classes.

The last of the 10 steps is to build on successes. Publicize your progress, celebrate individual and organizational achievements, awards, certifications and events. It builds momentum. It makes your bosses look good to their bosses! As the saying goes, nothing succeeds like success. You will garner new support, from funding to manpower to training dollars.

By following these 10 steps over a 24-month period, you can overcome institutional obstacles, build an effective emergency management program, gain senior level support and improve the safety and resilience of your university.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

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