Emergency Management work across campuses showing results

A series of workshops focused on disaster preparedness plans at 21 of Penn State’s 24 campuses has found that campuses are ready, now more than ever, to respond in rapid and organized fashion in case of emergency. The workshops, held recently at each campus, helped planners to identify common strengths and challenges and are the latest in a series of steps being taken by Penn State’s Office of Emergency Management to further enhance disaster preparedness at the University’s campuses.

"It is exciting to see our collective work on emergency preparedness across the University continue to bear fruit,” said Brian Bittner, director of Emergency Management at Penn State. “These workshops have been enormously effective in helping us to define the most important areas of focus for emergency managers, both here at University Park and at Penn State’s other campuses. It is critical that all of Penn State continue work together to safeguard our communities."

Penn State’s 19 Commonwealth campuses as well as the Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle, Pa., and the Great Valley campus in Philadelphia all are part of the University’s ongoing examination of emergency operations (Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Penn College are unique in their operations and have their own emergency response plans tailored to their communities).

"The collaborative work among Penn State's emergency managers in locations across the Commonwealth is a testament to the broader work we do to continually evaluate and reduce risk, including the recent restructuring of University Police at University Park and enhanced focus on our behavioral threat assessment initiatives," said Steve Shelow, assistant vice president for Police and Public Safety. "We are fortunate to have strong leaders in key roles as we focus on safety and security enhancements across campus locations.”

Broadly, emergency planners are taking a two-pronged approach to emergency preparedness across the University, through preparation of an emergency operations plan (designed to handle the logistics involved in the immediate response to a disaster), and also a business continuity plan (designed to ensure the continued operation of the University during a disaster, from housing and food services, to academics and research) for each campus. The workshops provided an opportunity for officials to assess the campus’ ability to implement their plans in case of emergency.

“Overall, the workshops reflected that our campuses are fully engaged in disaster preparedness planning, and that they are familiar with their plans and procedures,” said Aaron Bingaman, Penn State’s campus emergency management planner. “Moving forward, our focus will be on a further standardization of procedures and the increased sharing of information among campuses.”

The workshops found that, at many campuses, collaboration among campus- and community-based emergency responders, such as fire companies and municipal police forces, is strong. Though planners want each campus to be as self-sufficient in an emergency as possible, cooperation among campus and community is paramount.

Collaboration among Penn State campuses in the face of an emergency also is critical. Throughout the workshops, Bingaman said, various campuses expressed concerns about a potential lack of essential personnel to perform critical tasks in the face of an emergency. Coordinators plan to develop a credentialing system for essential University personnel at all participating campuses, to make it easier for campuses to share human resources in times of need. Emergency managers also are exploring the creation of volunteer programs to provide more support for critical tasks.

He said campuses, including University Park, are working together to identify resources that can be shared, including essential personnel to keep the campus running an emergency.

“All of us need to be on the same page when it comes to emergency response. We need to approach the challenges with enough flexibility that our plans and procedures can work for each location, while also taking into account the unique nature of each campus, its resources and its capabilities,” Bingaman said.

Planners also will focus their attention on the creation of customized “go-kits,” meant to contain the essential items necessary to continue the business of the University, for each department and for key individuals. A member of the faculty, for example, may have a go-kit that contains lesson plans, electronic chargers and the like.

Data accessibility also is part of the conversation -- planners may begin to encourage staff to store their data on a shared server (and not on their office computers) so that it is accessible in an emergency -- and encouraging all faculty to learn to use the University’s online course management system, ANGEL, in case a disaster were to force a course to be completed online.

“All of the actions we are taking promote safer, less vulnerable communities that are equipped to handle emergencies of all kinds,” said Bittner. “Our ongoing work also can help to prevent and mitigate potential disasters by making us aware of issues so that we’re ready to respond before there is a problem.”

For more information about the Office of Emergency Management, visit http://www.emergencymanagement.psu.edu/, contact Bittner at bpb4@psu.edu, or contact Bingaman at alb41@psu.edu.

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Last Updated August 06, 2012