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Unique Challenges for Higher Ed Makes Critical Incident Planning Essential

Cramming for exams should be about as stressful as the life of a college student gets. But as nerve-racking as school work can be, it’s an expected part of the college experience.

But more than ever, Higher Education Institutions have to be prepared for the unexpected. They have to be ready to respond swiftly and decisively to protect the lives of students, faculty, and staff when a disaster strikes.

Threats to Higher Ed can range from natural events like hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, or earthquakes to man-made incidents such as campus violence and active shooter situations, or medical emergencies like pandemics and infectious diseases.

No one could have anticipated events like the tragic shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte this past May. Nor could anyone have foreseen the natural disasters that shut down operations at colleges in Texas in 2017 due to flooding from Hurricane Harvey, or the massive damage to property at a number of Florida schools by Hurricane Irma, or at the University of Puerto Rico where students were displaced and classrooms and administrative offices severely damaged with Hurricane Maria.

Critical incident planning can be particularly tricky for colleges and universities because of so many variables – size and location of the campus, number of students and faculty, various structures and settings like classrooms, offices, residence halls, dormitories, performance halls, and sporting facilities.

The overall goals of emergency management, however, remain the same:

  • Protect Lives – the No. 1 goal is always to ensure safety of students, faculty, staff, and visitors
  • Protect Property – to minimize damage to buildings, structures, vehicles, etc., to reduce potential costs and return to normal operations as soon as possible
  • Protect Brand Reputation – a failure to respond adequately to a critical incident, as well as poor communication about the incident, can cause great damage to a school’s reputation

Just like the education process itself, critical incident management is a wide-ranging and ongoing process that requires, among other components, careful study and preparation, training exercises and testing, and evaluation of performance.

It’s encouraging to know that according to a campus safety survey by Magolis Healy, about 86% of U.S. Higher Education Institutions have created an emergency operations plan. However, the study also found that only a little over half of those surveyed “had conducted a comprehensive hazard and vulnerability assessment critical to the development of appropriate all-hazards emergency planning.”

In other words, most have a plan but only about half had evaluated it to see whether the plan would be effective.

Additionally, less than half surveyed said their school had routine meetings with emergency management personnel following an emergency or critical event at another U.S. higher education institution to reassess current plans and look at new threats that could arise in light of information learned from that situation.

Essentially, these institutions failed the test, because evaluating a critical incident preparedness plan is essential to identify weaknesses and areas for improvement.

So, the question is, would your Higher Education Institution pass or fail? When was the last time your Critical Incident Management plan was evaluated? Do you have one? When was the last time you performed a training exercise or test to see if it’s effective?

Disaster can hit any time. These steps could help protect your institution’s People, especially, but also Property and Brand Reputation.

For tips on Critical Incident Planning, check out our eBook – What’s Your Plan? – 5 Steps for Emergency Preparedness.

In our eBook you’ll learn:

  • How to improve communications to respond faster and bounce back from a critical incident
  • What is a common operating picture and why it is important to your college or university?
  • What do you need in an emergency management platform to increase your college or university’s situational awareness
  • How drills and exercises can improve your critical incident plan

Like any test, the sooner you begin to prepare, the better off you’ll be. Start your Critical Incident Planning today.

Don’t delay doing the things you need to do to be prepared. Contact us today for a demonstration of Juvare’s solutions.

what's your plan 5 steps for emergency preparedness

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