Campus Security Exercises Helping CHHS’ Homebase Prepare for the Worst

July 23rd, 2014 by Eric Oddo

CHHS is in the midst of a year-long campus security assessment of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), our homebase. Primary UMB partners within this project are the University Police Force and Environmental Health and Safety.  The fundamental objectives are to review, revise, and test the emergency operating and continuity of operations plans from across all sectors of the institution.

A series of six emergency exercises are currently underway as part of this project, formulated by CHHS’ Exercise and Training staff, that will serve to evaluate whether the emergency plans developed can be effectively implemented during a real-life crisis.

The kick-off for this exercise series, which was held on May 28, 2014, was a workshop for the UMB Emergency Management Team (EMT).  The EMT is a collection of personnel from various schools and offices throughout campus that meet monthly to discuss emergency planning, and who will be responsible for staffing the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the aftermath of a disaster.  The workshop was a collaborative discussion against the backdrop of a hypothetical tropical storm scenario during which the group established the roles and responsibilities of the EMT/EOC’s key position holders.  This entity serves as the “glue” between three other groups: the Campus Executive Team, first responders, and Continuity personnel. At the conclusion of the workshop, participants were eager to take what they learned back to their respective schools and offices, while also looking forward to future exercises that will give them a feel for what it would be like to operate in a real emergency.

To address communications during a potential emergency, the second exercise was held in partnership with the UMB Office of Communications and Public Affairs in early July.  Core media relations personnel walked through a scenario to gauge whether the university has well-established mechanisms (in terms of both technology, and policies and procedures) to disseminate timely and accurate information internally and externally during an emergency.

The Campus Executive Team will also participate in a workshop as part of the exercise series. This group comprises high-level executives and Deans from throughout the University.  Before, during, and after an emergency, these individuals are primarily responsible for making over-arching strategic decisions.

Building on the initial workshop for the University’s EMT, the fourth exercise, held today, was a more thorough and realistic tabletop event.  While still discussion-based, the tabletop was a facilitated analysis of an emergency situation in an informal, stress-free environment.  It elicited constructive discussion as EMT participants examined and resolved problems based on existing operational plans at the University and identified where those plans need to be refined.

The fifth exercise is a shelter-in-place drill to be held at the School of Pharmacy in September.  Shelter-in-place refers to the use of a structure and its indoor atmosphere to temporarily separate individuals from a dangerous outdoor atmosphere, such as an active shooter or a hazardous materials release.  This exercise will involve the emergency wardens and building coordinators, to test their familiarity and preparedness of best practices.

The capstone of this series of exercises will take place at the end of the summer – a functional exercise.   Bringing together various University stakeholders that have been involved in this campus security update, this mock drill will simulate a realistic emergency.  It will help staff examine and validate the University’s coordination, command, and control before a real incident occurs.

Emergency planning and exercises won’t stop at the conclusion of our project with UMB this summer.  CHHS will recommend future training and layout an exercise timeline for the campus, while the University will continue to update critical operating procedures on a routine basis and maintain communication with the campus community about the importance of emergency preparedness.

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