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How to Improve Your Current Emergency Plan

3 students talking in classroom wearing face masks

The 2019-2020 school year saw unprecedented disruption in campus activities nationwide and caused many higher education institutions to reevaluate their emergency preparedness. While we all hope that there won’t be a disaster on the same scale as COVID-19 again, the reality is that colleges and universities must be prepared for whatever comes.

Emergencies don’t follow a typical 8-to-5 schedule, so campus leaders must be ready to respond at whatever day and time they do happen. An emergency management system for schools can help you plan and prepare for the next disaster and respond appropriately when, not if, it happens.

When it comes to crisis collaboration, it’s important to think about who should be involved in your emergency planning and execution during an emergency, and what tools they have available to coordinate their response.

Why Your Current Emergency Plan May Not Be Working

Many schools already have some form of an emergency plan written down somewhere. The U.S. Department of Education provides some guidance to help institutions develop emergency operations plans, but there are no federal standards on whether and how these plans should be coordinated on a campus level.

Unfortunately, most institutions that do have a plan, have it written down and printed out in a binder in an executive office, on a Sharepoint site, or in an Excel document saved on someone’s computer. Maybe it’s reviewed every few years, maybe it’s been updated recently, but neither is guaranteed. Until you’re in an emergency, you probably don’t think much about it.

The wrong time to discover that you don’t have a clear plan of who is in charge — and how, when, and what they should communicate with your core constituencies during an emergency — is when that emergency strikes.

Who Should Have a Seat at the Table

One of the most significant decisions to make as you create your emergency plan is exactly who should be on the crisis management team and what your leadership hierarchy looks like.

The Planning

Having the right people in the planning process ensures that you will create effective emergency plans without missing key constituencies or important steps. At the same time, it’s also important that you not include so many people that the planning process itself gets bogged down in red tape, trying to coordinate schedules, or trying to accommodate the various needs of dozens of people and departments.

Your planning group should include core leadership that represents various constituencies on and off campus. They should be able to gather feedback from their various departments and organizations to ensure that the plan itself covers all the necessary bases.

This includes:

  • President
  • Director of Campus Operations
  • Director of Government Relations
  • Director of Media Relations & Communications
  • Student Life
  • Human Resources
  • Information Technology
  • Campus Police/Security
  • Buildings and Groundskeeping

You may also want to form an advisory committee (separate from your official planning committee) that includes representatives from the local community, such as:

  • Mayor’s office and/or county officials
  • Community law enforcement
  • Fire and EMS
  • Medical services
  • Public health department
  • Mental health services

The Execution in an Emergency

The second part of answering the question about who should be involved is determining the chain of command and the collaboration that will occur during an emergency. These things should be explicitly spelled out in your plan. It’s never safe to assume that everyone understands or will follow the same steps and protocols when the emergency itself is unfolding.

Your hierarchy may look different based on the nuances of your specific institution or campus(es). In general, you should have multiple tiers that begin with the president and your emergency planning committee members. This will then branch out to deans, directors, department heads, and eventually staff to ensure that everyone gets key messages during an emergency.

Additionally, it’s important to have a clearly defined succession plan that outlines who will be in charge next if someone is not available in an emergency. For example, who takes over if the president of your institution is on vacation or incapacitated?.

How Technology Can Help

Platforms for emergency management (like WebEOC) are designed to help you streamline your emergency preparedness and response workflows and enable centralized collaboration among stakeholders. Our solutions make it easy to protect the people and property at your institution, and by extension, protect your brand.

The Juvare platform allows you to create specific emergency plans to address a wide variety of potential disaster scenarios. The platform allows real-time collaboration among leadership, including multi-channel notifications, so everyone has the same information at the same time. You can also designate key roles for various stakeholders who will be responding during the crisis.

The platform allows you to create and continually update your emergency plan, along with key stakeholders within the institution as the people in those roles change. You can coordinate training to keep everyone up to date on the current policies and procedures, and easily communicate and collaborate across departments and campuses in real time during an emergency.

This information and feedback allows you to improve emergency response time and create real-time reports that keep everyone apprised of what is happening. The system also makes it easy to review your response after, to debrief, and find areas for improvement.

Evaluate Your Recent Emergency Response to Improve in the Future

Juvare’s solutions are ideal for everything from once-in-a-century disasters that come out of nowhere, like the COVID-19 pandemic, to large-scale event planning and everyday operations.

If your COVID-19 response did not go as well as you would like, our whitepaper How to Evaluate Your 2021 School Year to Prepare for 2022 can help you discover what went wrong and be better prepared for future emergencies. Download it today and contact us to learn more about Juvare’s solutions for campus emergency planning.

Written by

Akshay Birla

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