Think Outside the Campus: Developing Off-Campus Emergency Management Partnerships

Be sure you collaborate and coordinate with local and state emergency management organizations, first responders, local businesses, public health and peer institutions.

The hallmark of a comprehensive and successful emergency management program on a university campus depends on collaboration and coordination. Emergency managers on campus know the importance of such measures with key stakeholders, such as facility operations, residence life, dining services, environmental health and safety, university relations, health services, student government and athletics. With today’s risk and threat concerns, it’s even important for emergency managers to build strong relationships with religious organizations, military science departments, campus transportation and education abroad departments. 

But, what about off-campus organizations?

The Obvious

  • Local Emergency Management Agency: A strong relationship with the local emergency management agency can help foster relationships with other local response agencies. This should be the priority relationship for any campus emergency management agency as they are great facilitators of information of anything from common operating pictures during local or regional incidents to grant opportunities. 
  • State Emergency Management Agency: Like local emergency management agencies, state agencies can help connect campus emergency managers to key state resources and contacts unavailable at the local level. Of course, homeland security grants are often funneled through the state emergency management office, which is particularly important for state institutions of higher education (IHE).
  • Emergency Management Organizations: International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM), National Emergency Management Association (NEMA), state emergency management organizations, specialized emergency management organizations (continuity of operations, special events) and even private sector affiliations prove beneficial for planning purposes.
  • First Responders (police, fire, hazmat): While some campuses provide their own law enforcement, emergency medical or fire response capabilities, most have limited capacity to respond to significant incidents entirely. As such, strong relationships here are vital to ensure coordination on scene. Engage local response agencies now by offering the campus infrastructure as an exercise venue. Not only do they become familiar with campus personnel and the response capability inherent to the campus, but they also gain invaluable building familiarity. 
  • National Weather Service (NWS): For many of us, weather threats are our most common hazard. Engage your local weather forecast office (WFO), and ensure your team has the tools to communicate with them throughout a weather event. Consider tools such as iNWS and NWSChat while also building capacity to become a Storm Ready University.

The Not-So-Obvious

  • Public Health: IHEs, especially residence halls, can be vulnerable to meningitis, Ebola, tuberculosis, influenza and other disease outbreaks. Campuses pose unique public health challenges, and opportunities and approaches to public health incidents on campus may require different strategies than the strategies used elsewhere. For example, campus emergency managers should be working with local public health agencies on their points of distribution (POD) planning efforts to ensure an appropriate strategy for their campus. Such planning efforts help expose both entities to their capabilities, expectations and strategies. 
  • Other IHEs in the Area: While we can call upon our local and state counterparts to assist during an incident, they may not be as valuable as mutual aid from other higher education emergency managers. They are familiar with the campus environment and players, and can immediately be a force multiplier. Further, such relationships with area universities are invaluable during regional incidents when campus leadership want to understand what their counterparts are doing. 
  • Conference Partners: By meeting with partners within an athletic conference or other collegiate affiliations, campus emergency managers can discuss issues and solutions common to similar institutions. 
  • Nearby Businesses: Especially with urban campuses, it is important to reach out to large neighboring businesses as their campuses often are impacted by incidents and events at the university. Consider including such contacts on your emergency alert systems so they are immediately clued into incidents that may impact their operations. Nearby businesses can also provide emergency classroom space for continuity operation needs. Other business will often provide in-kind gifts and resources for both mitigation and recovery efforts. 
  • Non-Profit Organizations: Organizations like the American Red Cross and the United Way provide important services during and after emergencies.
  • Online Resources for IHE Emergency Management: Sometimes the best place for new ideas is from other emergency managers. The Disaster Resource University (DRU) online portal provides daily tips, advice and lessons learned. Most IHEs have similar online portals within their state and athletic conference.

Each university has a set of threats and risk that are often due to their geographical location and/or unique mission. But, more-than-likely, universities share a common set of issues where emergency managers that can be addressed by developing collaborative relationships with others. Universities stretch beyond the campus boundaries, and so should emergency management relationships.

Andy Altizer is the director of emergency management at Kennesaw State University and William Smith is the director of emergency preparedness at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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