July 19, 2007
By Anita Martin
Ohio University's emergency preparedness efforts seek to consolidate response plans that already exist and build in new ones through a software package known as the Living Disaster Recovery Planning System.
Using this tool, provided by Strohl Systems Group Inc., each academic and support unit at the university will detail an individual emergency response plan. The university will build these response plans incrementally, aiming for 50 units to set up their individual plans each year.
Definition of a critical incident
The Critical Incident Response Team defines a critical incident as one with any of these characteristics:
- Has a negative impact on the university and its community;
- Significantly impairs the normal operations of the university;
- Necessitates the response and/or assistance of a specialized internal or external; agency (i.e. chaplain, counselor, hazardous materials team, SWAT, medical examiner, etc.);
- Creates a significant need in the university community and/or the public for information on how the incident will affect them and how it is being handled;
- Requires that immediate actions be taken by the appropriate individuals to re-establish a safe/healthy environment.
"We are identifying what we feel implicitly are the more critical operating units and focusing on those first," said David Hopka, assistant vice president for safety and risk management. He and Jill Harris, emergency programs coordinator, explained that this incremental approach reflects the technical nature of the software and the comprehensive nature of the planning process.
"There are three phases to the LDRPS process," Harris said. "First, we use the software to build a site evacuation plan, develop call-trees so people can quickly contact one another and establish teams with specific task assignments."
The second phase involves business impact analysis, for which Harris and the Department of Environmental Health and Safety present examples of emergency situations and units devise action plans for restoring productivity and maintaining business continuity.
"Let's say you've lost 40 percent of your people due to a disease outbreak or you've lost all your IT capability," Hopka said. "If you're a manager, what do you do? Whom do you contact and what do you need in order to get back in business and recover?"
This leads to phase three of the LDRPS process: identifying and prioritizing all unit assets from IT to human resources to the square footage of buildings, assessing further risks and finally, participating in drills and exercises that utilize the established LDRPS strategies.
Despite the vast range of potential emergencies, in any situation, individual unit response always includes some universals: effective communications, chain of command, designated teams to carry out specific tasks, inventory of critical resources and a plan for restoring productivity.
"Do you need to replace equipment? Do you need to find housing for a group of displaced people? Whom do you call to solve these problems? You can either guess about those things, or you can have those assignments predetermined," Hopka said.