Magazine

Are You Prepared? The Answer is NO!

Robert Harkins

This is the second article in a three-part series on the preparation of an emergency safety and security plan for your organization. Editor.

In the post-9/11 world, it is not uncommon to think about emergencies or traumatic events. We often categorize these incidents as acts of terrorism, severe weather, pandemics and technology attacks. Although it is easy to categorize emergencies in this way, the real task lies in figuring out how to best prepare for and react to these events.
The question for all of us is: “Are we prepared?”
For many of us, the answer is NO!
In our organizations, no one person controls all the agencies that interact to prevent or cope with emergencies. However, someone needs to identify the stakeholders and bring these individuals and groups together.
In order to do that at the University of Texas, we created an office for Campus Safety and Security, and this decision gave focus to one person and one office to coordinate emergency planning and response. This office oversees the functions of the Police Department, Environmental Health and Safety, Fire Prevention Services, and Parking and Transportation Services, and brings other university personnel together to develop emergency policies.
The second step we took in improving emergency planning and preparedness was to establish a Safety and Security Committee. Its purpose is to coordinate the mitigation, preparation, response, and recovery necessary in campus emergency situations.
Forming this committee required pulling together numerous personnel, but with support and participation from senior administration, much can be done. A high level of senior leadership participation will facilitate a higher quality of the products prepared and/or actions taken by the committee.
I emphasize that you will need the “buy-in” or support of every agency in your organization. Safety and security is the business of everyone in the organization.
The real action accomplished is taken by forming subcommittees and subgroups to attack specific issues and bringing these solutions back to the monthly Safety and Security Committee meeting. The idea is to pull together groups to attack issues and problems. The focus must be on planning, mitigation and recovery.
Our Safety and Security Committee focused on the revision and/or preparation of plans by creating the following documents: Emergency Management Plan; Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Virus Annex; Severe Weather & Hurricane Response Annex; Emergency Sheltering During Mass Evacuation Annex; Building Emergency Annex.
The most important step in this plan-writing stage was to establish a template to serve as a model, and this was structured with supporting plans as annexes and appendices.
With that process underway, we focused on issues. With support from the administration, the committee addressed safety concerns, such as:
Safety and security communications: All organizations have the responsibility to communicate with their members. There are multiple means of transmitting information, and most in today’s world immediately hold up their mobile phone when the need to communicate is crucial. However, with emergency after emergency, we have come to understand that this communication method is quickly overloaded, and is ineffective as the primary means of communication. Other options are available, such as pagers, e-mail, telephone (phone tree and reverse 911), CCTV, sirens, exterior signage, analog radios, and RDMT radios (Trunking Radios).
Emergency management planning: How does your organization plan for emergencies? Each must develop a process that cuts across the organization to address mitigation of emergencies, preparation of the organization, its response during the event and recovery after the situation passes.
Severe weather / hurricane planning: We aren’t a coastal organization, but we are about three to five hours inland. For this reason, we have modeled the effects of a hurricane hitting the coast and then heading directly to Austin. From this, the university has determined the actions to be taken as a storm approaches. The university is installing an outdoor warning system to alert those students, staff, faculty and visitors who are not in a protected facility. Additionally, because of the proximity to the coast, the university and Austin will be shelter sites for evacuees. The university has developed a plan to accommodate its fair share of those who may be displaced. Again, it is necessary to plan and coordinate early.
Power outages: We generate the electrical power we use. We have our own generation plants, and our own chilled water and steam generation plants. We have many research projects that rely on constant power and temperature, so power outages are uncomfortable and annoying. Outages also can be disastrous to years of research and work. Each organization must develop contingencies to lessen the disruption of power outages.
Computer and data hackers: Leaders must assemble the resources to combat this threat and forever be watchful against these attacks. As with all safety and security issues, information technology cuts across the organization and needs multiple solutions.
Pedestrian safety and movement: When the leadership of any organization addresses this topic, you can see the heads nod with: “Now there’s a real safety and security concern.” This topic is one for the architects, planners, landscape personnel, police, and all those who move in and around the organization. It takes time to look objectively at the organization’s facilities and improve the perception and reality of safety and movement.
Building emergency evacuation: Our organization has more than 130 buildings on the main campus—this is 16 million square feet in floor area. When we began looking at this issue, we found nothing but confusion and a lack of planning. We developed a standardized plan, and have been working with all facilities to establish an organizational structure to get the word out and to supervise the evacuation of facilities.
Alarm and access system: This is an area where only the strong should tread. This issue has so many branches and sequels that the pathway forward is very difficult to see.
Emergency exit lighting in buildings: We have buildings that were constructed from the 1880s through this year, and a look at these facilities shows a wide variance in fire protection measures. This includes emergency lighting and fire alarm systems, and indicates a need for a comprehensive strategy to improve and correct these facilities.
Security awareness: There is a need for the organization to develop an exciting – even entertaining – safety and security education program that uses a variety of media. Talking to the students or employees is the best way to gain their help in developing this program.
The next issue I will lay out how Safety and Security builds the plans and the coordination that is required.

Article Abstract from November, 2006




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