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Penn State Tackles Emergency Response Planning System-Wide

In a multi-phase project that started in January 2010, Pennsylvania State University has done an analysis of the emergency preparedness and response capabilities of 21 campuses in its system. This initiative is a follow-up to a university-wide assessment done in 2009 by Beck Disaster Recovery (BDR), a Florida-based emergency management consultant. The company was brought back in July 2010 to improve campus capabilities in coping with emergencies and returning to normal operations following a disaster. That effort involves aligning emergency planning across the campuses by using a uniform framework for dealing with emergencies.

In a statement the university said it follows an "all-hazards" approach to emergency preparedness, which assumes that regardless of the cause, many emergencies call for the same response processes.

For the first phase of the project BDR developed standard templates for campus emergency operations and business continuity plans using federal, state, and local guidelines. The consulting firm also visited each campus to conduct a gap analysis, a process to document what steps needed to be performed to bring emergency preparedness up to the new standards. That included evaluating campus' existing emergency plans.

The second phase of the project, which began in July and is expected to continue through May 2012, calls for BDR to perform three tasks:

  1. Develop plans for each campus to address the gaps;
  2. Develop and put on workshops to test planning assumptions and develop a roadmap for continued maintenance of emergency plans; and
  3. Conduct workshops focusing on the actions outlined in the new emergency plans.

"All of Penn State needs to work effectively together to safeguard our communities," said Clifford Lutz, Penn State's emergency management coordinator. "This analysis gives us a better understanding of what resources are available to respond to an emergency and to recover. This is a significant step in emergency preparedness."

A large part of the planning process is to establish relationships with local emergency responders near each campus, said Brian Bittner, the university's emergency planner. "Having emergency operations plans in place can help prevent and mitigate potential disasters by making us aware of issues so that we are ready to respond before there is a problem," he said.

BDR has taken other universities through the same type of project. Clients include Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

"Emergency planning for universities poses a number of unique challenges," said Joanne Martin, director of BDR's emergency preparedness division. "This is especially true for the Penn State project, which entails developing plans for 21 individual campuses as well as making sure these plans are integrated with each other and meet industry standards."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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