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15 Steps to Building Collaborative Relationships on Campus

Here’s how three university emergency managers developed strong programs by fostering partnerships with students, faculty, staff and off-campus stakeholders.

Ask any college campus emergency manager what is the key to success in making their campus better prepared, and they’ll likely provide the same answer: collaborative relationships. Campus law enforcement learned the importance of community policing, and much has been written on how to develop such a program. Unfortunately, not much guidance has been provided to campus emergency managers on how to develop these important relationships.

The first step for emergency managers is to get out of the office and meet various campus stakeholders. Start off with the staff members where future interaction is likely: facility operations directors, chief of police, environmental health and safety staff (chemical safety, lab safety, biological safety, hazmat, etc), health services, athletics, dean of students, student government, residence life staff, etc.

Emergency managers new to the campus environment will greatly benefit from taking the online IS-100 Incident Command System for Higher Education. It provides excellent examples of who are the important staff members on a college campus. Sometimes the seemingly obvious is not quite so obvious. For example, who is responsible for snow removal, facility operations, transportation, landscaping, or someone else?

Other than simply meeting and greeting, what else can an emergency manger do to start getting to know people on campus?

1. Ask to attend the first part of other departmental staff meetings to introduce yourself and describe your roles and responsibilities. Police, environmental health and safety, student affairs, residence life, facility operations and student health services would be good places to begin.

2. Develop an emergency management committee. Membership for this committee should include senior leadership from the following departments: campus life, facilities and engineering, communications and marketing, finance and administration, general counsel, environmental health and safety, human resources, government affairs, information technology, campus police, office of the provost, research infrastructure, risk management, student health, counseling services and transportation services. This committee can vet polices and could also be utilized as the operational response group for campus emergencies.

3. Teach a course! It’s a great way to meet faculty, and of course, students.Teaching a section of the freshman orientation course can be particularly useful since you’ll meet a variety of other instructors, and you’ll always have a captive new student audience to bounce ideas off of.

4. Serve as a campus organizational advisor to get to know more students. 

5. Start a volunteer program for faculty, staff and students like a Campus Emergency Response Team (CERT) or Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). These programs offer excellent networking opportunities that allow an emergency manager to interact with many members of the campus community while creating more campus ambassadors to help spread the emergency preparedness message.

6. Organize a quarterly or monthly (as resources and funding permit) lunch meeting where internal campus partners (public safety, health center, student affairs, etc.) and external campus partners (fire, EMS, emergency management, public health, etc.) are encouraged to network and share resources and training opportunities. This will help prevent the potential issue of campus and community partners meeting for the first time at the scene of a campus emergency.

7. Facilitate an emergency exercise such as a drill or tabletop exercise. This is a great way to establish and sustain relationships between campus and community partners.

8. Share or purchase equipment and resources with other departments. Unfortunately, many campus departments often operate in silos with their budgets. However, providing another department with financial assistance to purchase a weather radio, emergency signage, an evacuation chair, an AED or other emergency preparedness items goes a long way to help establish a relationship as well as improve your overall campus emergency preparedness program. Consider an MOU or establishing a “check out” program for larger and/or more expensive items.

9. Coordinate a campus-wide emergency preparedness fair for the campus community where various campus and external community partners are invited to participate by tabling and showcasing equipment and/or vehicles. Not only does this assist the campus emergency manager in promoting more of an emergency preparedness culture on campus, this type of event will promote more positive interaction between students, faculty and staff and campus and community first responders (and academic departments with a public safety teaching or service mission).

10. Collaborate with an academic department on campus to sponsor a special presentation highlighting a contemporary emergency management, public health or homeland security topic that allows academics and public safety professionals to co-present on a topic.This collaboration certainly bolsters relationships and could provide an avenue for your department or other public safety departments to recruit interns from participating and relevant campus academic units.

11. Seek out partnerships with student government groups and campus organizations that have an interest in emergency preparedness or public health. These groups can be a force multiplier of prepared individuals on campus. They can also help to disseminate preparedness information on the campus. Examples of this are the student Red Cross club, or public health school outreach organizations. Involving student organizations will assist the campus emergency manager in communicating with the student body and will help keep preparedness messaging relevant to the students.

12. Develop student and faculty/staff advisory groups to provide a sounding board for your preparedness ideas and activities. Not only do these types of groups provide input and feedback on emergency alerting and other preparedness initiatives, but they can be utilized to test new ideas or programs before they are implemented on campus.

13. Volunteer to serve on panels, selection committees or even as judges for informal events on campus (for example, a departmental chili cook off).

14. Occasionally work in a different setting (student center, library, dining hall, etc) and take advantage of getting to know others.

15. Develop relationships with peers at other campuses to discuss best practices, and to develop strategies for emergency preparedness that are unique to institutions of higher education.

An emergency manager on a college campus needs to establish the same types of collaborative relationships that an emergency manager in the community does, but it often takes a little creativity to find the various and diverse groups on campus. Successful emergency managers establish collaborative relationships with the stakeholders within their communities. These include their partners, both internal and external, and their constituents. Establishing these relationships within your community helps to create a more disaster resilient community that is more responsive when a crisis occurs. Building a wide range of collaborative relationships also provides an
emergency manger with a greater sense of belonging to the campus.

Andy Altizer is the director of emergency management at Kennesaw State University; Steve Harris is the director of emergency management at University of Georgia; and Sam Shartar is the director of emergency management at Emory University.

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