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Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Institutions of Higher Education: At a Glance

Our nation’s postsecondary institutions are entrusted to provide a safe and healthy learning environment for students, faculty, and staff who live, work, and study on campus. Faced with emergencies ranging from active shooter situations to fires, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and pandemic influenza, this is no easy task. Many of these emergencies occur with little to no warning; therefore, it is critical for institutions of higher education (IHEs) to plan ahead to help ensure the safety and general welfare of all members of the campus community.

Lessons learned from emergencies at IHEs highlight the importance of preparing IHE officials and first responders to implement emergency operations plans. By having plans in place to keep students and staff safe, IHEs play a key role in taking preventative and protective measures to stop an emergency from occurring or reduce the impact of an incident. When an emergency occurs, IHE personnel must respond immediately, providing first aid, notifying response partners, and providing instruction before first responders arrive. IHE officials must work with partners across the institution as well as their community partners (governmental organizations that have a responsibility in the IHE emergency operations plan) including first responders (law enforcement officers, fire department officials, and emergency medical services [EMS] personnel), emergency managers, and public health and mental health practitioners to provide a cohesive, coordinated response.

On June 18, 2013, the White House released guides for developing high-quality emergency operations plans for schools and institutions of higher education (IHEs). These guides align and build upon years of emergency planning work by the Federal government and are the first joint product of DHS, DOJ, ED and HHS on this critical topic. The guides are customized to each type of community, incorporate lessons learned from recent incidents, and respond to the needs and concerns voiced by stakeholders following the shootings in Newtown and Oak Creek and the tornadoes in Oklahoma. Schools and IHEs can use them to create new plans as well as to revise and update existing plans and align their emergency planning practices with those at the national, state, and local levels.

It is recommend that planning teams at IHEs responsible for developing and revising a higher ed EOP use the information presented here to guide their efforts. It is recommended that IHEs compare existing plans and processes against the content and processes outlined in this Guide.

To gain the most from it, users should read through all of this content prior to initiating their planning efforts, and then refer back to it throughout the planning process. The content of the guide is organized into five main sections here, broken out into easy-to-read parts.

  • The principles of emergency management planning for IHEs.
  • A process for developing, implementing, and continually refining a higher ed EOP with community partners.
  • A discussion of the content of higher ed EOPs.
  • Additional information on the critical operational functions and courses of action developed to carry them out that IHEs should address in developing a comprehensive, high-quality higher ed EOP.
  • Additional information on the courses of action unique to particular threats and hazards.