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Abstract: Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity

As subject matter experts (SMEs) on facilities, utilities, and operations, facilities managers are vital in preserving business continuity and in helping universities respond to emergencies.  Whether acting as emergency  manager or supporting that officer, facilities managers can direct responders, offer logistical support, and plan for short-term needs and long-term recovery. Facilities managers must understand the language and structure of (and operate with) local, state, federal, and nongovernment resources.

Comprehensive Preparedness

Types  of Emergencies.  The three types are natural (e.g., weather, earthquake, some fires); technological (e.g., utility outage, communication failure, structural fire, hazardous material release); and man-made (e.g., active shooters, information technology [IT] hackers, vandalism, civil unrest). Managers should use the same comprehensive approach to prepare for all types of emergencies.

Threat and Risk Assessment. Facilities managers must understand threat and risk assessment to create and execute emergency plans. The all-hazards approach evaluates endogenous (internal) and exogenous (external) threats to people, facilities, operations, and IT. Threat assessors review a comprehensive threat list and probability and consequences, typically using subjective evaluations (rather than previous onsite emergency data) and multiple evaluation methods to capture all levels of impacts. Risk assessments vary by location and operation complexity, integrate probability and effects, and recommend focused planning (a frequent event with low-level effects can require planning more than an infrequent devastating event).

Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs). Two of the 25 HSPDs (2001–2009) on national security and emergency management are notable for college emergency planning: HSPD-5, which created the National Incident Management System (NIMS), and HSPD-8 (now Presidential Policy Directive 8), which created a federal all-hazards preparedness goal.

Incident Command System (ICS). The scalable ICS stresses unity of command, clear communication, management by objective, flexible organization, and span of control (three to seven direct reports for any responder to pursue small group advantages). Most municipal fire departments and multi-agency teams use ICS (with response duties divided by command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance), so ICS- based campus capabilities facilitate responses, reduce severity and length, and improve safety. ICS study courses are available online from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); some agencies have advanced classroom-based ICS training (see Figure 2.2).

NIMS.  NIMS  extends  ICS  to  responder  interactions with off-scene emergency managers, policymakers, and agencies (up to federal), stressing situational flexibility but also standardization to easily add new response agencies. Familiarity with  NIMS  helps  universities  call on and integrate with external resources.

ICS basic organization chart

Figure 2.2. ICS basic organization chart

Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 requires institutions that receive federal financial aid funding to publish current emergency response and evacuation procedures, encouraging the creation of emergency plans. A comprehensive all-hazards plan is useful during an emergency of any size.

Plan Development and Maintenance. Emergency management plan scope depends on assumptions (e.g., response capacity level, desired resilience) based on history, regional threats, or events at similar schools.

All-Hazards Approach. An emergency management plan focusing on one threat or type of threat often fails to protect the school from other threats. The current staff can have the expertise and skills to identify prominent threats; guidance is available (e.g., from FEMA, local emergency planners, and consultants).

Empower the Team: Charge and Support.  Senior leaders must support and direct comprehensive emergency planning, including indicating goals and level of support to the community and to groups expected to participate. Without such support, needs are identified with no paths to improvement.

Establish the Team: Participation. Emergency management plan development should include a wide cross-section of the institution, including major facilities management input (and leadership if needed) as well as numerous other departments. FEMA and other organizations have training and guidance documents (often free or at low cost); local emergency planning groups may also have such services.

Purpose: Concept of Operations (CONOPS). An emergency management plan relies on a statement of purpose and a CONOPS (level of operation to be maintained during an emergency, dependent on event scope and scale). Some emergencies pose operational short-term risks (e.g., full or partial suspension of operations and related decision points and training); some create strategic post-event operational risks.

Prioritization. Environmental scans evaluate current capacity to meet the CONOPS in an emergency and identify gaps that must be corrected (or eliminated through more achievable goals). Preparedness activity prioritization depends on available resources and often on resourceful emergency planning staffs.

Plan Acceptance and Review. After senior leaders approve the emergency management plan, it must be implemented, including monitoring progress and updating the plan. Comprehensive emergency response planning gives a clearer understanding of needs and priorities in the emergency preparedness phases emphasized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) (mitigation, preparation, response, recovery), especially if resources are constrained.


Threat mitigation reduces the vulnerability of exposed institutional assets by changing design (e.g., through engineering, architecture, redundancy), eliminating single points of failure and creating excess capacity.

Redundancy. Facilities managers  can  increase resilience by identifying single points of failure in critical systems and spreading the redundancy throughput. This strategy is more expensive but can avoid future emergencies.

Communication. Network redundancy improves vulnerable system survivability and the likelihood that an all-channels message (mass  notification)—now  a standard and key threat mitigation plan component—will reach the community. Interoperable communication systems enable diverse responders to directly communicate, reducing confusion and response times.

Weather Protection. Facilities managers should consider the value of weather mitigation systems such as wind-resistant roofs, water-resistant doors, shatter-resistant window films, and flood protection systems (which can cost millions but substantially reduce and even eliminate  water-related  losses).  Facilities managers also can change new construction and renovation design standards, spreading implementation over several years but reducing long-term costs. Integrating weather-protective architecture can improve design outcomes when included early. FEMA offers weather protection (often matching) grants.

Emergency Utility Capacity. Most operations depend heavily on electricity. Fire codes require power to illuminate emergency egresses. Some buildings have critical loads (e.g., ventilation systems, scientific equipment, computer systems) that require constant power. Facilities managers need to count or  estimate total emergency power needs and assess how long the facility will be safe to occupy without emergency power, noting that the thermal mass of most facilities will support operations for several hours, but some areas (e.g., kitchens, animal colonies) need more urgent attention in the face of temperature changes.

Remote Hosting and Data Storage. IT assets (e.g., transaction-based e-learning and e-registration) are critical but vulnerable to electrical outages, cooling capacity loss, and external attack, so at least one offsite location should store duplicates of critical data and applications to support continued operations.


Emergency preparation investments produce more rapid and effective responses, reducing event severity and speeding recovery (e.g., personal preparation; planning; training, exercises, and drills to build skills and confidence; emergency team equipment; critical supply stockpiles, including purchase, inventory, and replacement; standard but adaptable communication messages and delivery tools; and contingency funds and insurance if needed.) Colleges and operational responders at all levels need 3-day (72-hour) kits, as do individual families. Responders need an advance plan (with rough initial priorities) to apply in fluid emergencies and advance (sometimes standards-specified) training, especially if assuming high-impact collateral duties. FEMA and some agencies offer  ICS and NIMS training  on local responder interactions.


Incident Command System. The organization with an emergency needs to initiate the response actions. Training (including exercises and drills) increases responder confidence in using the scalable and flexible ICS, improving internal response and external responder integration. ICS relies on a well-trained and skilled incident commander who secures (and controls access to) emergency scenes; stages the response; develops, implements, and modifies the incident management plan; manages all responders, patients, and observers and their safety; protects property; manages the press; and if needed coordinates additional responders and activates an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) when disruptions create strategic risks.

EOC. Located indoors away from the event, the EOC relies heavily on communication technology, often has facilities information and emergency power, sometimes has hygiene and eating facilities, and often has a backup EOC. Under NIMS, the EOC has common Emergency Services Functions (ESFs). The emergency manager can call for additional ESFs; the facilities manager usually leads several ESFs.

Liaison with External Resources. An institution with  an emergency management plan must understand external agency capabilities and expectations (e.g., police, fire, emergency medical services) and tailor its own response to match and complement them. When the incident commander calls in external resources, command can be transferred or managed in a unified command, but facilities information will be needed.

Decision to Close. Senior executives usually decide whether to close an institution (cease all but minimal activities) or initiate a mass evacuation plan, acknowledging one strategic risk but taking another.

Volunteers and Donations. The university (or municipal) ICS and EOC integrates volunteers and donated goods into the emergency response. If not affected, the university EOC still can support the local EOC.


The recovery phase begins as an  ESF  during  the response and includes some continuity of operations while the organization recovers. Facilities managers will play a prominent role in such  recovery.  The high cost of  a quick service restoration must be incurred because of the high cost of not resuming operations (a possible strategic risk). Federal agencies  such  as  FEMA sometimes offer (often matching) restoration or mitigation grants, some with substantial insurance obligations.

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