University’s emergency plan now revised, available on new Web site

by Paul Sand

More than a year and a half after former University President Mark Yudof cited a need to reform the University’s emergency plan, officials have completed the update and this week are publicly introducing the revised version.

Phil McDonald, University Services chief of staff, said the institution is trying to draw attention to the plan through an institution-wide e-mail directing students and staff to a recently launched Web site.

“Clearly there is a demand for information,” McDonald said. “We know in our planning many of our constituents have questions about what the University’s plans are and what they’re doing to protect people.”

McDonald said following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Yudof assembled a committee to revise the University’s emergency plan. The committee updated the roles of departments that play a key part in emergency management, including the Academic Health Center, University Police Department and the University’s network and telecommunications service.

The goal of the plan is to clearly define what the role of each University community member – students, staff and faculty – should do if an emergency situation arises, McDonald said.

The committee also clarified the plan’s mission and priorities to emphasize security, McDonald said. He said the plan’s priorities now include protecting life and University property, ensuring facilities are secured and quickly resuming the institution’s daily functions.

The University modeled its emergency preparedness plan after Stanford University’s plan, one of the University’s peer schools, officials said.

“California has actually been considered cutting-edge in emergency preparedness, obviously because of the inherent risk of earthquakes,” McDonald said.

California law requires emergency plans for public institutions, he said. Emergency plans are not required in Minnesota.

Judd Freed, emergency management department director, said the plan’s biggest improvement is that it is now much easier to understand. He said older versions were full of good details, but almost unreadable.

“(Now) you can pull this thing off the Internet and look at it and understand what the University is doing to protect itself from catastrophe,” Freed said.

The updated plan also includes an emergency rating system that will help University officials prioritize emergency situations, Freed said. Using a scale from one to four, with four being the worst, officials can dedicate resources to handle the situation, he said.

“If you look at this plan, you’ll see that we have given thought to how we respond,” he said. “We don’t throw tons of resources at something that could be fixed by one person.”

George Aylward, interim associate vice president for public safety, said the University did not allot any additional funding to the project. Aylward, who served on the revised plan’s steering committee, said members had to fit the meetings into their regular schedules.

“I think it was time well spent by the people involved,” he said.

University Relations will maintain the emergency plan Web site, Aylward said.

Aylward said the committee, and University officials involved with the plan, met Tuesday morning to run through a hypothetical emergency. The situation, he said, included a fire at an electrical station which caused a blackout south of Washington Avenue Southeast – including the Academic Health Center and residence halls.

Walking through these emergency situations helps each department and person understand the relationships involved with the plan, Aylward said.

“This plan has a different approach than the past, much more user-friendly,” he said. “It’s quite a nice improvement.”