Thursday, January 28, 2016

Emergency Management at a University

A university is an ecosystem with many interacting parts.

The resiliency of a university depends on the procedures and practices in place for emergency management.

Today, we had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Jeff Hescock, the Director of Emergency Management and Business Continuity at UMass Amherst, in my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class at the Isenberg School. He was a terrific Professor for a Day!
Mr. Hescock's described how his group, with many partners at UMass, prepares for a variety of emergencies, both man-made and natural ones, and assesses a page of risks that can affect students, research, energy, and infrastructure, to start. He also spoke of the emergency alert system, which includes text and email alerts, as well as sirens, and postings on the UMass homepage. The importance of relaying timely information was emphasized as well as post incident discussions and evaluations.

The National Weather Service recently awarded UMass Amherst a Storm Ready designation, the first public university in Massachusetts to receive this designation.

I also very much enjoyed his discussion of mitigation in terms of identifying flood plain regions and potential power outages. Luckily, we have our own power plant on campus but it can only generate about 60% of the university's needs. hence, there are generators in place at crucial locations.

UMass Amherst also works closely with the ton of Amherst in emergencies especially in terms of planned events (the Super Bowl, concerts at the Mullins Center, for example). Also, there are strong relationships with the other colleges in our 5 college system.

A major part of his presentation covered the response to the Boston Marathon bombing that took place at UMass Dartmouth, when he worked at the UMass President's office, because one of the perpetrators was a student there. This event emphasized vividly the importance of having best practices in place, including evacuation and sheltering. Many of the students, who could not go home, once UMass Dartmouth was evacuated, were sheltered at a local high school.

How a university responds to an emergency and deals with the news media can also have far-reaching impacts on its reputation.

UMass Amherst regularly runs different emergency exercises, including a sheltering exercise a few years ago that several of my students and I observed. This year, in April, it will be building a healthcare crisis exercise, inspired by outbreaks of meningitis at various campuses last year (at Princeton and the University of Oregon, for example).

Mr. Hescock's presentation can be downloaded here.

Clearly, the importance of information sharing, collaboration, and  great teamwork were highlighted. And, of course, when it comes to business continuity, one can't underestimate the importance of information technology as well as shelter and food for students!

Many thanks to Mr. Hescock for such an illuminating and educational guest lecture today.

Students benefit greatly from ghearing from practitioners.