How Good is Your University’s Crisis Response Plan?

Ask any university president if their institution has a crisis response plan and the answer will almost certainly be “yes.” Dig a little deeper though, and you may learn that the plan is not what it purports to be. Maybe it addresses only a few critical incidents. Conversely, maybe it provides so much detail that it would impede responding to a crisis in a timely and effective manner. Campuses are complex environments that can be impacted by various types of critical incidents both large and small in scope. As a result, the need to create a comprehensive yet pragmatic crisis response plan is essential. To do that, consider including these key components in your plan.

Define emergency levels and indicate initial response actions. Possible definitions could be: 

  • Level I (impacting only limited parts of campus)
  • Level II (impacting sizable portions of campus)
  • Level III (impacting the entire campus and surrounding community)

Provide an emergency response diagram to provide general initial guidance for probable courses of action.

Explain the emergency management structure and include general and specific responsibilities for individuals with key roles. Include each person’s emergency contact information.

Clarify when/where/how the campus emergency operations center will be established and function (independently as well as in collaboration with local/state/federal agencies).

Create a communications plan that takes students, parents, employees, community members, and media into account.  

Include campus information that provides details related to facility floor plans, utility access/control points, communication capabilities/redundancies, transportation resources, food/water supplies, backup power sources, potential evacuation routes, agreements with local agencies regarding mutual aid, and an equipment inventory to know what resources may be on hand depending on the type of crisis.

Create response plans for potential crisis situations. While the list that follows is not all encompassing, it includes many items campuses should consider when creating a crisis response plan.

  • Active shooter 
  • Bomb threat 
  • Chemical/hazardous material spill/release 
  • Civil disturbance/demonstrations 
  • Death of student or employee
  • Domestic or workplace violence 
  • Evacuation/shelter in place 
  • Explosion 
  • Fire 
  • Hate crime 
  • Infectious disease outbreak 
  • Medical emergency
  • Natural disaster (earthquake, flood, hurricane, tornado, etc.)
  • Power outage 
  • Psychological crisis 
  • Radiation emergency 
  • Sexual assault 
  • Study/travel abroad incident
  • Suspicious mail/package 
  • University closure
  • Unsafe water supply 
  • Violent or criminal behavior 
  • Weather emergency

In addition to creating response plans for various types of situations, it is also important for campuses to have a campus violence prevention plan that provides strategies for early identification/mitigation of potential critical incidents. That plan should provide the campus community information on topics including:

  • Identifying behaviors of concern 
  • What and how to report
  • Warning signs of imminent violence
  • Threat assessment management procedures 
  • Response procedures (behavioral intervention team)
  • Campus and community resources

Given the importance of creating a safe community on a college campus, it is incumbent upon every institution to create a comprehensive and pragmatic crisis response plan that ensures the level of preparedness expected by students, parents, and employees. Dutcher LLC would welcome the opportunity to discuss your institution’s crisis response plan and help in your efforts to improve preparedness.

Post by Dave Emsweller, Higher Education Consultant, Dutcher LLC

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