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Optimizing an Emergency Operation Plan for Educational Institutions

Industries
Educational Institutions, Emergency Communications

Tools
Alerts - Mass Notification Software, Command Hub - Common Operating Picture, Emergency Event Templates, Live Survey, Blueprints & Maps

9 min read

Every post-secondary educational institution has an emergency operation plan (EOP) included as part of its list of policies and documentation. These plans include essential information regarding how the institution should react in the event that an emergency occurs on campus and the communication procedures that accompany the emergency operation plan.

Traditionally, many university or college emergency plans require a lot of manual preparation and execution to ensure the awareness and safety of all students and staff, which can be effective though perhaps a little inefficient when it comes to ensuring everyone always has up-to-date access to the common operating picture when making crucial decisions. This efficiency can be increased with the use of an emergency communications platform, in that a lot of your communication and emergency preparation processes can be automated as well as shared with other relevant parties who may need access to the information received during the emergency.

EmergHub is one such emergency communications platform, an all-in-one solution that combines mass notification tools with a common operating picture that includes a mapping interface to enhance overall situational awareness. Below are some ways emergency communication platforms can easily fit into your post-secondary institution's emergency operation plan to increase efficiency and mitigate risk.

Managing Emergency Communications

A key area of your institution's emergency operation plan is how and when communication should be distributed to staff and students once an incident occurs.

Properly Send Initial Notifications Over Multiple Channels

First off, there is the initial notification that must be sent out to ensure awareness of the situation as well as enable everyone to get to safety as soon as possible. What is important during this initial emergency message is that it reaches as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. This is where multi-channel communication sees many benefits.

The EmergHub platform is able to broadcast messages to all subscribed staff and students over four channels of communication: email, phone, SMS, and even fax. Alert messages can be templated in advanced and deployed automatically to all contacts with the single push of a button. Send the initial alert via contacts' preferred communication method, falling back through other methods if they cannot be reached by the primary one. Alternatively, EmergHub is able to blast the emergency message out to all contacts' channels at once so they receive multiple messages, thus increasing the chance they read the message in a timely fashion.

Keep Everyone in the Loop with Regular Updates

After the first message goes out alerting all administration and students of the evolving incident, regular updates allow for continued communication between the various stakeholders for the duration of the emergency event. Your emergency operation plan likely includes protocol concerning how you maintain the lines of communication with your contacts after the initial message. As mentioned previously, EmergHub can be used to easily send these mass communications efficiently through multiple channels of communication.

However, the necessity for updates goes both ways in an emergency – while the public wants to be kept up to date as to their safety, the emergency management team also requires updates in regard to the mitigation efforts and the potential for further threats to the well-being of staff and students.

EmergHub includes a tool that can assist with keeping the emergency management team up to speed with the use of short, one-answer survey questions that can be asked to contacts. Survey questions can either be open-ended or multiple choice and can be sent out over email, SMS, and telephone. Responses are tracked and updated in real time so timely and educated decisions can be made.

Delegating and Determining Staff Responsibilities

As soon as an emergency occurs, many emergency operation plans will dictate that the institution's emergency operations center (EOC) be opened up and activated so that personnel can begin to properly manage the ongoing event.

But who are these personnel? What do their primary responsibilities entail and how can a communications automation platform like EmergHub help them with these duties?

Implementing Emergency Response: Incident Commander

During an emergency, the president of the educational institution or a designee will typically take on the role of Incident Commander, responsible for the direction and implementation of the emergency response.

The Incident Commander is responsible for contacting and filling in the rest of the emergency management command staff as to the nature and severity of the emergency. Rather than contacting each of these members one at a time, it would be more productive and efficient to host a teleconference with these members. EmergHub's Instant Teleconference tool would allow the Incident Commander to further improve efficiency by dialing out to the call participants rather than having everyone dial in separately, monitoring who is on the conference through a visual dashboard, as well as keeping the call on track by muting all participants and requiring them to "raise a hand" if they would like to speak.

Another responsibility of the Incident Commander is declaring and ending any campus-wide states of emergency. When a state of emergency must be declared, it is important the message is broadcast over as many communication channels as possible as quickly as possible. This is another case where EmergHub's Alerts tool can aid with the distribution of the emergency message, with the ability to send out the notification through email, SMS, phone, and fax simultaneously.

During and after the emergency situation, the Incident Commander may also need to recruit volunteers to help with evacuation efforts or aftermath procedures. An easy way EmergHub can help with this task is through the use of the Recall functionality, which would allow the Incident Commander to send a recall notice to subscribed members of the administration and the public to request volunteers. The Incident Commander can also categorize potential volunteers by the skill sets needed for the job at hand.

Managing Security Services: Emergency Preparedness Safety Officer

The role of the Emergency Preparedness Safety Officer is a role usually designated to the individual responsible for the Security Services at an institution. The primary duty of this role is carrying out the directives provided to them by the Incident Commander.

Among the other responsibilities given to the Safety Officer in the institution's emergency operation plan could be the implementation of the recording in the school's interactive voice response system (IVR) to notify callers of the shutdown. EmergHub's IVR Builder channel allows the Safety Officer to develop and maintain a simple call tree menu to which the closure recording can be easily added whenever the need arises. A separate IVR can even be set up especially for emergency situations and be activated and deactivated as required.

Another potential duty of the Emergency Preparedness Safety Officer is to notify and maintain a liaison with any appropriate organizations external to the institution, such as police, fire, or emergency medical services. The EmergHub Instant Teleconference and Alerts tools can once again benefit this task greatly, as well as the Live Survey component, which can be used to gather information in the form of multiple choice or open-ended survey questions.

Emergency Preparedness Safety Officers may also be required to provide, manage, and assign equipment or vehicles to the Command Team to assist with the emergency mitigation efforts. Management of these important assets can be made easier and more streamlined through using EmergHub's Blueprints functionality, which acts like a database where you can store information on these assets such as their operation status or whether or not they have been assigned to a team. The Mapping tool also allows the Safety Officer to have a visual representation of the infrastructure and determine at a glance its status and current availability.

Analyzing and Developing the Emergency Operation Plan: Intelligence Officers

Intelligence Officer is a role that may be given to the institution's vice-presidents, requiring them to compile, analyze, and manage pertinent information and plans to be utilized in emergencies.

One of the responsibilities of an intelligence officer could be to develop plans with the Dean or Director of each department for emergency preparation and security during incidents, as well as recovery plans post event. To help with the development with these plans, EmergHub's Event tool will allow Intelligence Officers to create step-by-step communication plan templates that can be immediately deployed at the onset of an emergency. Tasks in these templates can be initiated manually or automatically from the launch of the plan template, and they can be managed from an easy-to-use dashboard where the officer can see all the incoming information and responses from mass notifications that have been sent out.

Intelligence Officers may also be responsible for establishing phone trees for Deans and Directors to ensure that all staff can be contacted when needed. As mentioned above, EmergHub includes an IVR Builder that can be used to create these call trees including the ability to transfer the caller to the appropriate extension.

The Importance of Campus Safety and Security

Another section of a typical emergency operation plan for a post-secondary institution includes protocols and procedures concerning the safety and security of students and staff during specific emergency events. Communication during these procedures is key, both to the public from the command staff as well as the other way around.

Know Who Has and Has Not Evacuated

During incidents requiring the evacuation of students and staff from the campus, it is important that everyone be directed to follow the emergency plan through alerts to their emails and phones and they are instructed to stay calm and meet up at the designated assembly location.

Automatic, pre-prepared alerts with all of this information can be sent out immediately via EmergHub's Alerts tool and an option can be enabled to require that contacts confirm they have received and understood the notification. These response confirmations will be included in the Alert report and available in the Alert widget appearing on the Command Hub dashboard, allowing the command team to determine who has not received the evacuation notice.

Stay in Touch with Contacts During Shelter in Place/Lockdowns

When it comes to a shelter in place or lockdown situation, everyone on campus is required to enter the nearest building, close all windows and doors, and barricade them if necessary. Whereas during a shelter in place, it is advised to turn radios or televisions to local news stations, during a lockdown, complete silence is paramount. So, how can members of the command staff learn more information about the evolving situation from those on the ground?

EmergHub's Live Survey application can be used to gather crucial information about the location of any possible threats. The command staff can send out an open-ended or multiple-choice survey to contacts asking whether the threat is close by, how many people are located in the current classroom or shelter area, or whether there are any injured persons. This will help the team to gain more awareness of the situation as well as determine who is where and where to best allocate available resources.

Once the threat has been neutralized, a mass alert can be sent out to sheltered contacts to provide them with the all clear.

Track and Record Resources and Assets

In any EOP, it is beneficial to include a list of all assets and resources so the emergency management command staff are aware of what is available to them when dealing with an unforeseen situation. The EmergHub platform includes a tool that can be used to facilitate the management of these assets and ensure the appropriate personnel have access to assign and delegate these assets to the proper sectors.

Access Central Asset Management

The Blueprints application is essentially a database system that provides emergency management staff the capability to create templates for each asset type with information fields that are specific to assets created using this template. For example, you could create a template for all Campus Police vehicles with information fields for their current operational status as well as their assignment status. When a new police vehicle record is created using the blueprint template, these information fields will need to be filled out. Command staff can then easily view which vehicles are on assignment and actively on patrol and which ones may be in the shop getting repaired.

Another example of an asset that can be managed by the Blueprints system is the various safe zones around campus. Information fields for this template may include the latitude/longitude, location of the zone, as well as the status in terms of being secure, compromised, or threatened. The benefit of including each safe zone's location is that this information will allow each record of the template to be displayed on the EmergHub Map interface where Command staff can see at a glance which zones are secure and which ones are threatened.

View a Comprehensive Common Operating Picture

These Blueprint assets can also be managed in comprehensive reports showing only the information fields the Command staff need to monitor at any given time. These reports can be easily shared to all groups who require access, allowing for a true common operating picture where every appropriate organization and agency receives updates as soon as they arrive in real time. You can also combine more than one blueprint template into one report, provided they possess at least some of the same information fields, such as Status or Location. This way, the institution's command staff can reduce clutter on the Command Hub dashboard while still being able to easily see all the important information regarding essential assets in the field.

Enhance Your Emergency Operation Plan

Save valuable time for both the emergency command team and everyone on campus during an emergency by pre-creating and automating alerts and notifications to send out over multiple channels of communication when you need them. Using EmergHub's suite of emergency communication tools can help you streamline and execute each component of your institution's emergency operation plan to better prepare for and communicate during emergency situations.

If you would like to learn more about EmergHub and how the applications included in the platform can help bolster your institution's emergency operation plan, contact us at sales@simplycast.com, or sign up here to receive information straight to your inbox!

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