Monday, February 13, 2017

Keeping Our Universities Safe - Lessons in Emergency Management and Business Continuity

We have had 2 major snowstorms in the past 5 days in Massachusetts and UMass Amherst, along with most schools and colleges, was closed last Thursday. This morning, the commute was a bit dicey but there was not even a scheduled delay on our campus.

Below is a photo of the accumulation of the snow from the two storms, so you have an idea.

This spring I am again teaching my course on Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare and I regularly blog about the guest speakers in the course. This term there has been some disruption management necessary since not only have two of my classes been cancelled, due to snow, but also, because of the Presidential Executive Order on immigration, my first guest speaker, Mr. Jeff Hescock, had to reschedule, but, speak he did, last Tuesday. Luckily, all went smoothly after the Patriots superbowl win so he did not have to postpone again. Never a dull moment at a university, I must say.

Mr. Hescock is the Director of Emergency Management and Business Continuity at UMass Amherst, and, coincidentally, he is part of the team that makes the decision of whether to close UMass Amherst due to weather. This, of course, was very interesting to the students and, also, rather timely.

Mr. Hescock shared with the class how the campus responds to emergencies and emphasized the importance of coordination with police and fire departments and the necessity of being more efficient.  He noted that the tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007 was the game changer for emergency management at universities, signalling that an institution, such as a university, cannot have big delays  and "sign-offs" from multiple stakeholders before notification and action are taken.

Prior to Mr. Hescock's appointment at UMass Amherst in 2013, he had worked in the UMass President's office and also assisted in the evacuation of UMass Dartmouth post the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013, another date that is permanently cemented in my memory.

Mr. Hescock emphasized the importance of training and educating alternate persons who can take over in the event of a university emergency as happened last spring at UMass Amherst with an incident taking place during the public school vacation break, during which some of the emergency staff were away.

Hescock is a leader in securing grants for a variety of emergency preparedness initiatives and I have personally taken part in a big exercise for sheltering at the UMass Mullins Center. You can read my blogspot on this exercise, which also has a lot of photos, here.

The campus has a hazard mitigation plan and this past year the drought was a big issue. Luckily, UMass can notify students and staff to decrease their water usage and emphasize the importance of doing so.

I appreciated that he also brought up "enterprise risk management," since my research team does a lot of work on supply chains and viewing them holistically as systems and we also work on vulnerability analysis of networks.

In addition, the necessity of meeting with many different stakeholders in order to be prepared for emergencies is essential, and, in the case of a university, that would include the facilities group, the compliance group, among others, in order to assess risk. He also stated that the most dangerous spot on campus is a cross walk.

There exist templates already in the computer system to get a message out as soon as possible, which is reassuring, and I can speak to the fact that, with the incident last year, the notification system, in the form of loudspeakers, email, and text alerts was very effective. Now we can sign up for practice exercises in the case of a similar incident.

UMass Amherst has 13,000 students living on campus and has about the same number living off campus. It has one of the highest on campus number of student residents in the US. When need be, given the importance of communications, crisis communication experts are kept on a retainer.

UMass Amherst also has MOUs with the Five Colleges in our area, with the state police, Amherst police, and also MEMA (Massachusetts Emergency Management Association). I will be hosting a speaker from MEMA in the class next week.
Mr. Hescock has also worked for MEMA and has worked in the private sector, where he appreciated the funds. He brings a wealth of experience and practical know-how. He, for example, made sure that there were backup generators for the cold storage units for food at UMass Amherst. And told us that UMass generates 60% of its electric power. It was an oasis that my family and I benefited from when we had the freaky Halloween snowstown in October 2011 and lost power for about 5 days in our home in Amherst. Getting a hot cup of coffee was a challenge, not to mention a hot shower. We ate many delicious meals at the UMass dining halls (I felt guilty having lobster during the power outages but enjoyed it immensely).

It is a wonderful educational experience for students to hear from expert practitioners such as Mr. Jeff Hescock. He was a terrific Professor for a Day and we thank him!