On Patrol: It’s Showtime for Emergency Management

Planning ahead for a potential disaster is just one of the many responsibilities facing UC Davis' Emergency Manager Valerie Lucus, as she emerges from behind the scenes to explain what it means to be in such a position.
Published: April 30, 2008

Crises occur all the time, and campuses are definitely not immune to them. Incidents like fires, earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes and more happen with alarming frequency, but recent active shooter incidents have put the spotlight squarely on campus preparedness. This in turn begs the question: When disasters strike, who makes sure the campus community is ready? And who is responsible for making sure it will bounce back? The answer is the emergency management team.

Emergency Manager Valerie Lucus of the University of California Davis (UC Davis), a research university, has 15-plus years of emergency management under her belt, as she has worked not only for campuses, but has experience in municipal emergency management.

As emergency manager, Lucus is not a first responder. Instead, it is her responsibility to plan and prepare for the unforeseen, such as a chemical spill or power outage that may cause researchers to lose their work. The list of potential emergencies seems endless. Additionally, Lucus is in charge of all the recovery after an incident strikes.

Although Lucus is accustomed to working in the background, recent tragedies and the greater attention to mass notification that resulted have put her and other campus emergency managers squarely in the spotlight. Lucus’ role as emergency manager demonstrates how she and other emergency managers like her work closely with all groups on campus as well as the outside community so that her institution is optimally prepared for whatever emergency may come next.

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Obviously your job incorporates a lot of different things. What would you say is the biggest challenge facing your department right now?

LUCUS: I think it’s probably the same as what’s facing all of the municipalities out there, and that’s figuring out how to balance the service budget. It’s about providing services that need to be provided to make sure the campus or the community is safe, and understanding that there is never going to be enough money for everything.

How do you obtain the funds you need in order to succeed in your job?

LUCUS: The best way to get funding for anything is by starting out with a reasonable proposal. It has to be something that takes into consideration the needs of the whole campus and not just your department. It leverages what’s already in place. It’s something that you can defend against all of those competing priorities on campus or in your community.

There are a lot of things that money should be spent on, but the only way that you can really get it is by presenting a good enough case to those making the funding decisions.

What would you say is the biggest difference between working for a city and/or a municipal setting, versus working for a campus?

LUCUS: The biggest difference is the population that is considered your community. We have 30,000 students and they’re all fairly young. For most of them, it’s the first time they’ve ever been away from home. In the city, it’s very diverse. The needs in a city or county are much more diverse in terms of the population.

At UC Davis, we have to deal with all of the students who are here and the staff and faculty who go home at night, as well as the overnight crew for after-hours. We’re a research university, so there are laboratories, animals and research going on. Additionally, there are projects that have been going on for years. You have to find some way to keep everything. For example, if the electricity goes off, someone can lose 15 years of research.

Would you say there has been more attention paid to your emergency management team in the past three years?

LUCUS: Yes. In fact, one trend that bothers me the most is the whole unreasonable response to catastrophic incidents. Instead of looking back to look forward, there is a sort of knee-jerk reaction. September 11 was a really good example. What happened in 9/11 to create Homeland Security was done at the expense of emergency management programs that had been in place for 30 years trying to develop disaster-resistant communities.

That lasted until Hurricane Katrina. I think it became pretty clear that you’ve got to be able to plan for all hazards. You can’t focus specifically on terrorism, which is what 9/11 kind of created in the country. By doing that, you leave the rest of the community vulnerable to everything [else] that’s going to happen.

What initiatives have you been working on in your capacity? Which ones have been the most successful?

LUCUS: We already have an emergency management plan, but a business continuity plan focuses on maintaining and recovering our core activities. We tried to do this a couple years ago when we were all doing pandemic planning. We had all the departments look and identify what their critical services were and who their critical people were — the kinds of things that could be impacted if we had a high absentee rate.

We went through that whole process, and now we’re getting ready to update and expand it to all hazards. This time it won’t be “What if you don’t have people come to work?” It will be everything from building usage, loss of electricity, that sort of thing. How do you manage all your business processes if any of those kinds of hazards happen?

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