Hurricane Preparedness Week: Is Your Campus Ready?

Celebrate Hurricane Preparedness Week by reviewing this storm-tested expert’s advice.

For Hurricane Preparedness Week (May 7-13), Campus Safety sat down with Lawrence Zacarese, the assistant chief of police and director of the Office of Emergency Management at Stony Brook University.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy forced university officials to overcome a series of challenges.

The biggest struggle for Stony Brook was losing its campus network. Although the school had three different internet service providers, all three came through a battery tunnel from lower Manhattan that filled with 14 feet of water during Hurricane Sandy.

RELATED: Managing Crises With Campus Emergency Operations Centers

Stony Brook had a failover system, but it required a campus IP address to access and, with internet down across the campus, officials were unable to produce one (now the school has five different ISPs with different routes to campus for redundancy in addition to the Rave Mobile Safety Guardian campus safety app).

Needless to say, Zacarese learned a lot about hurricane preparedness during the Sandy experience, and we thought Hurricane Preparedness Week offered a great opportunity to pick his brain.

“Above all, never be afraid to evacuate,” Zacarese said. “Be a conservative emergency manager”.

Read more from Campus Safety on severe weather or check out other great hurricane preparedness resources available online, including at the National Hurricane Center.

The following conversation has been edited lightly for clarity and brevity:

Q: How should campus officials assess their hurricane preparedness?

It’s important to understand that even though your campus might not be in an area prone to direct storm impacts, there are secondary areas that might affect campus operations long term. These are things you have to consider.

Officials should also make sure they have a really good academic continuity plan. Know what classes can be partially taught online or with hybrid instruction so you don’t have to cancel all classes outright.

Also find out what staff members are considered essential. Our faculty members were deemed non-essential so they didn’t have to come to campus during emergencies. When you have students set to graduate and midterms coming up that can be a major problem.

hurricane preparedness week

Q: How often should campuses be reviewing or updating their hurricane preparedness or emergency response plans?

The value of an emergency response plan is directly proportionate to the quality of information that’s in that plan and the frequency with which that information is accessed in an exercise.

I tell people if you go to your emergency response plan and you have to blow dust off the cover and the first number in the directory is a beeper number, you probably have some work to do.

You need good data and you need to know who to call and when to call, but if it sits on a shelf it becomes essentially a big paper weight.

RELATED: Exercises: The Tool for Evaluating Plans, Training and Preparedness

We do a semi annual review of our continuity of operations plan. There’s an email automatically sent to administrators in different areas, just to make sure contacts are updated and nothing has changed.

Campuses should do tabletop exercises at least semi-annually. I like to do functional exercises as often as we can, not necessarily just for hurricane preparedness.

The drill will be that we lose power or we have to move students form these three dorms, or we have severe lightning at a football game. We just talk through that in a tabletop, and sometimes we actually do it just to make sure we’re ready.

What agencies should be involved in crafting a hurricane preparedness plan?

I’m not a fan of emergency planning in a vacuum. If the police department writes a plan including expectations for the provost or others, and they’re not aware of that, it’s just words on a piece of paper. If you have expectations for someone in your plan, they need to have a seat at the table.

What are some considerations for crafting an evacuation plan for hurricanes or other emergencies?

“Volunteers are key because the police department alone can’t evacuate some of these high-rise buildings or [heavily populated] campus areas.”

Campus evacuation is sort of a misnomer. There are 50 or 60,000 people on my campus, so there’s no way to evacuate the campus quickly and safely. Hospitals have surge capacity and rapid discharge plans to file people in, and the same thing should be true for campuses.

Whether it’s just having alternative locations to house people or it’s a doomsday scenario where the whole region becomes susceptible, you need to know what you’re going to do with the campus community. A lot of that is accountability when you’re moving people: If you move ten people you should be placing ten people in safe locations.

We have volunteers on campus that help with things like fire drills. Volunteers are key because the police department alone can’t evacuate some of these high-rise buildings or [heavily populated] campus areas. You also need good town relations, especially if you’re embedded in an area where you’re inside the local community.

All these pieces need to be put together so it’s not just a plan on a piece of paper but a plan you can actually execute during hurricanes or other emergencies.

What sort of capabilities do emergency managers need to have on campus to ensure hurricane preparedness?

I think they need to really consider their emergency power redundancies. As a result of Hurricane Sandy we put a significant amount of money and time in our emergency operations center.

You also need the infrastructure to support that emergency operations center. Our entire EOC and police department building is on emergency power.

We also have redundant fiber for our networks, so we can be 100 percent operational and we know we have backup servers to rely on.

Make sure the technology has redundancies to survive, but also have non-technological backups for those systems. Have emergency contacts written in a binder in addition to on your server or in your phone.

Read Next: Do You Have What It Takes to Be a University Emergency Manager?

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About the Author


Zach Winn is a journalist living in the Boston area. He was previously a reporter for Wicked Local and graduated from Keene State College in 2014, earning a Bachelor’s Degree in journalism and minoring in political science.

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