7 Questions to Ask Before Creating a University Disaster Plan

The need for a comprehensive emergency management plan (EMP) for your university is no surprise. But what are the right questions to ask as you develop that plan? How can you check that your existing plan covers all bases and is comprehensive and complete? Here are seven questions to ask yourself as you assess the EMP for your university:

  1. Is your emergency management plan distributed to all parties responsible? There are undoubtedly many individuals, departments and agencies that will be tasked with specific protocols and responsibilities in an emergency situation. Are these parties fully aware of their specific roles, as well as how their role fits into the overall emergency plan?
  2. Have you shared your plan with outside support agencies and other universities? Similar to internal parties who have responsibilities in a crisis management situation, local agencies (e.g., city, state) will be involved in an emergency at your university. Advance communication will facilitate effective response when needed. Also, other universities can lend advice and support in an emergency situation, so it is helpful to share your plan with them in advance too.
  3. Does your plan include policies and procedures that address all hazards that could potentially impact your campus? It is hard to ignore the knee-jerk response planning to the most recent incidents facing other institutions or by the media, but planning in advance and trying to anticipate scenarios will help you create a more robust and comprehensive plan. Look for environmental cues and think about a broad scope of disaster scenarios. You may not have a perfect fit if a unique disaster arises, but by considering a wide array of possibilities, you may be quicker to react.
  4. Is your plan scalable? Can it be enacted in phases or levels? Not all emergencies require a response of the same size or breadth. Is your plan designed to quickly assess who/what resources are needed for various levels of emergencies? By creating a plan that can be activated in stages or at specific levels, you can develop the most efficient crisis management solution.
  5. Does your communications plan include a plan for backup communications? Redundancy is important in case one of your planned areas of response is directly affected by the emergency. Effective communications are essential to keeping the response team, university community and media informed appropriately in an emergency situation. Establishing a backup communications plan will help you create a redundant system to ensure your system of communication is operational even if the regular system goes down during an emergency.
  6. Is your plan used in exercises or drills? What better way to test your plan than to run emergency drills and exercises? Adhering to your plan will help you identify gaps or weaknesses – or areas that need to be included. Running “mock” emergency programs will also help involved individuals and teams be more engaged in protocols in the event of an actual emergency.
  7. Do you distribute a copy of your plan to all key internal departments and outside agencies at least once annually? By keeping responsible parties informed of changes and updated with the current plan, you can help create the most effective response in the case of an emergency. By redistributing the plan each year, you can re-engage key individuals and groups and keep their roles in your emergency plan fresh and top-of-mind.

Taking the time to step back and reevaluate your university disaster plan using these questions can help you be sure that your plan is both comprehensive and ready for action.