Accounting for People During Times of Crisis

Develop your plan now so you can minimize confusion and liability when an emergency occurs.

Schools, universities and hospitals offer many opportunities for open-access events. On a daily basis, campus perimeters are wide open. Urban universities are more exposed than a standalone campus. So how do you account for the number of people on your campus at any given time, especially during a crisis? In the stressful and chaotic environment of a critical event, it is essential that campus administration account for its most valuable assets: students, faculty, staff and visitors.

Unfortunately, providing information and assistance to people affected by a crisis can place an enormous burden on a campus’ resources, and this task becomes even more challenging when coupled with the open population a school or hospital campus may present. Additionally, security personnel must work with stakeholders in a variety of areas, such as human resources, employee relations, legal and facilities maintenance. Without the implementation of a formalized crisis and accounting-for-people plan, they are unable to effectively do so.

Accounting for people is a topic that has come to light as our country experiences far too many disasters – man-made (e.g., shootings, bombings) or natural (e.g., tornadoes, floods). Since 9/11, people have become more aware of their surroundings and take note to identify the exits and entrances when they enter an unfamiliar building. But is situational awareness enough? What steps should your campus leaders take to be prepared to reduce the mass confusion that ensues in a crisis?

Establish the Accounting-for-People Team

An important part of your overall crisis plan includes a team leader and coordinators who are charged with accounting for and identifying employees, students, patients, visitors – anyone who may be on your campus on any given day, during any given hour.

Using the buildings floor plans and grounds maps, categorize the campus and staff by response areas. Assign each area an identifying name and an accounting-for-people coordinator from your team. If the building or area houses hundreds of individuals or if the crisis is taking place over multiple locations, creating subsets of individuals will allow for quicker assessments. The area coordinator will be charged with accounting for their team in the event of a crisis and will be most familiar with the buildings in the assigned area, including all entrances and exits, emergency call centers and shelter locations. It’s important to designate a backup to each coordinator and the team leader in case they are not available at the time of a crisis.

The points of evacuation in each building should be identified, and each section on campus should include an assembly area where everyone meets during an emergency. In the event the assembly area is not accessible during a crisis, an alternative site should be identified and included in the plan. Students and staff should always be aware of where the need to go in case of emergency – much like a fire drill. However, there are also situations where a shelter-in-place order is best recommended. Having a way to communicate this information will be necessary.

Develop a Coordinator Toolkit

Each area coordinator should be equipped with the necessary checklists to help account for people, both missing and present. The checklist will contain the names and contact information of the employees or students in their charge by location and status. It’s convenient to keep the checklists on a clipboard at the ready in case of emergency. Employees, staff and visitors will check in with the coordinator after they safely reach the assembly area. If someone on the list is not present or if visitors were known to have been in the building during the crisis, coordinators can work with supervisors and first responders to quickly determine if the missing were at home, not in class, on vacation or at another location. On a college campus, this requires careful advance planning of checklists since faculty and students have schedules that vary at any given time of the day and week.

In addition to an easy-to-grab clipboard, the team leader and coordinators also should have available something that makes them easily identifiable. A bright colored safety vest or the use of noticeable flags are the best options. Coordinators are charged with the task of quickly accounting for everyone else, so it’s important to be able to quickly identify that person as the go-to team member in the assembly area. This cannot be stressed enough. It is critical to an organization to have the coordinator provide important information on the status of its staff and others in a timely manner.

An easy-to-grab emergency kit should be available for each coordinator as he or she exits the facility. The kit could be something as simple as a tote bag containing the crisis plan in a binder, a clipboard with the contact list and checklist, brightly colored safety vest so others on campus can identify the coordinator, flashlight and first aid kit. The coordinator can add his or her cell phone and keys.

The coordinator’s job is to account for people, brief the responders and act as the liaison, but after first responders arrive, the majority of the crisis response and investigation will be handled by the police, paramedics, fire department – all organizations that should already be familiar with the campus during the planning and practice phases of your crisis plan. If someone is missing, the coordinator will provide the first responders with as much information as possible about the missing person or persons and their last known location, letting the responders take over the search. The coordinators must check in with the team leader and let him or her know the status of their group.

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