Higher Education Emergency Action Plan Tips, Trips, & Traps
As the father of a recent college Freshman I know, for students and their families, choosing an institute of higher education is a major decision. Along with academic, financial, and geographical considerations, the issue of campus safety is a significant concern. Despite the Campus Awareness and Security Act of 1990 (Title II of Public Law101-542) which amended the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), the Clery Act, and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 (VAWA), the number of violent crimes and natural disasters on higher education campuses continues to rise.
Emergency action plans in higher education cannot ensure a natural disaster or act of violence will not occur but are crucial for ensuring the safety of students, faculty, and staff in the event various emergencies do arise. However, there are several common mistakes that institutions might make when developing or implementing these plans. Here are some of them:
- Lack of Regular Review and Updates: One common mistake is failing to regularly review and update the emergency action plan. Emergencies and campus dynamics can change over time, so the plan should be revisited at least annually to ensure its relevance and effectiveness.
- Lack of adequate Communication: Failure to effectively communicate the emergency plan to all members of the campus community is a significant mistake. Everyone should know their roles, responsibilities, and what actions to take in different emergency scenarios.
- Ignoring Special Needs: Failing to consider the needs of individuals with disabilities or other special needs is a serious oversight. The plan should include provisions to ensure their safety and effective evacuation in emergencies.
- Limited Training and Drills: Conducting regular drills and training sessions is essential to ensure that everyone understands their roles and can execute the plan correctly. Neglecting this aspect can lead to confusion and panic during a real emergency.
- Complexity and Lack of Clarity: An overly complex plan with jargon and technical terms can confuse people during high-stress situations. The plan should be clear, concise, and easy to understand.
- Not Addressing All Types of Emergencies: Focusing solely on one type of emergency (e.g., active shooter) and neglecting others (e.g., natural disasters, medical emergencies) can leave the campus vulnerable. A comprehensive plan should cover a range of potential emergencies.
- Ignoring Local Resources: Not collaborating with local emergency services and authorities is a mistake. These organizations can provide valuable support during emergencies and should be integrated into the plan.
- Overlooking Technology: Neglecting to leverage technology for communication and coordination during emergencies can hinder response efforts. Alert systems, mass notification tools, and communication platforms should be part of the plan.
- No Continuity Plan: After the immediate emergency has been addressed, institutions should have a plan in place for restoring normal operations and providing necessary support to those affected.
- Underestimating Human Behavior: Emergency situations can trigger panic and unexpected behavior. The plan should consider how people might react under stress and provide guidance for managing such situations.
- Single Points of Failure: Relying on a single person or system for key functions in the emergency plan can lead to failure if that person or system is unavailable. Redundancy and backups are important for critical functions.
- Not Involving Stakeholders: Developing the plan without input from key stakeholders such as students, faculty, staff, and local community members can lead to an ineffective plan that does not account for the needs and perspectives of all involved parties.
- Insufficient Resources: Lack of funding, personnel, and resources can hinder the implementation of the plan. Adequate resources should be allocated to ensure that the plan can be effectively executed.
- Failure to Learn from Incidents: After an emergency occurs, it is important to conduct a thorough post-incident analysis to identify what went well and what could be improved. Failing to learn from past incidents can lead to repeated mistakes.
By avoiding these common mistakes and continuously improving their emergency action policies and plans, higher education institutions can enhance the safety and security of their campuses during emergencies.
We will collaborate with you to address all areas of your emergency preparedness policy to ensure your entire organization is as prepared as possible when a disaster happens.
Written by: Kevin Cook, CWCA, Compliance Director, McGowan Insurance Group
About the Speaker: Kevin Cook, CWCA is a Consultant with McGowan Insurance Group where he is the Director of Compliance services. Kevin Cook manages the Compliance division and is responsible for design, consultation, and implementation of client’s government compliance, safety, and employee training initiatives as well as employee benefits consultation, risk management and workers compensation cost control. Kevin also conducts seminars, webinars, and workshops on various topics related to compliance and employee training.