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Step 2: Understand the Situation

In Step 2, the planning team identifies possible threats and hazards, and assesses the risk and vulnerabilities posed by those threats and hazards.

Effective planning depends on a consistent analysis and comparison of the threats and hazards a particular IHE faces. This is typically performed through a threat and hazard identification, and risk assessment process that collects information about threats and hazards, and assigns values to risk for the purposes of deciding which threats or hazards the plan should prioritize and subsequently address.

Identify Threats and Hazards

The planning team first needs to understand the threats and hazards faced by the IHE and the surrounding community.

The planning team can draw upon a wealth of existing information to identify the range of threats and hazards that might be faced by the IHE. First, the planning team members should share their own knowledge of threats and hazards the IHE and surrounding community have faced in the past or may face in the future. Institutional data, including crime statistics and crime logs required under the Clery Act may provide guidance (see “The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act” for more information about the Clery Act). The planning team should then reach out to local, state, and federal agencies for data about historical threats and hazards faced by the surrounding community. Local and county agencies that have a knowledge of threats and hazards include, but are not limited to, emergency management offices, fire and police departments, as well as local organizations and community groups (e.g., local chapter of the American Red Cross, CERT), utilities, and other businesses that can provide helpful information.

Assess the Risk Posed by the Identified Threats and Hazards

Once an initial set of threats and hazards have been identified through the process described above, the planning team should select suitable assessment tools to evaluate the risk posed by the identified threats and hazards. Evaluating risk entails understanding the probability that the specific threat or hazard will occur; the effects it will likely have, including the severity of the impact; the time the IHE will have to warn students, faculty, and staff about the threat or hazard; and how long it may last.

The local and county emergency management staff should be able to provide information on some of the risks posed by threats and hazards common to the IHE and surrounding community. This enables the planning team to focus its assessment efforts on threats and hazards unique to the campus community, as well as the particular vulnerabilities of the buildings and facilities, and their occupants.

“Vulnerabilities” refers to the characteristics of the IHE (e.g., buildings, equipment, IT, or electrical systems, grounds, surrounding area) that could make it more susceptible to the identified threats and hazards. Assessing risk and vulnerability enables the planning team to focus its efforts on prioritized threats and hazards.

Assessments will be used not only to develop the initial plan but also to inform updates and revisions to the plan on an ongoing basis. The table below provides more information about some of the most essential assessments the planning team should undertake.

Assessments

Assessment Description Purpose and Results
Site Assessment A site assessment examines the safety, accessibility, and emergency preparedness of the buildings, facilities, and grounds. This assessment includes, but is not limited to, a review of building access control measures, visibility around the exterior of the buildings, compliance with applicable architectural standards for individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs, structural integrity of the buildings, and emergency vehicle access.
  • Increased understanding of the potential impact of threats and hazards on the school buildings, facilities, and grounds.
  • Increased understanding of risk and vulnerabilities of the buildings, facilities, and grounds when developing the plan.
  • Knowledge of which facilities are physically accessible to individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs and can be used in compliance with the law.
Climate Assessment In a nurturing, inclusive environment, members of a community are more likely to succeed, feel safe, and report threats. If a student survey is used to assess culture and climate, student privacy must be protected. A range of personnel across the IHE can assist in the assessment of climate, including counselors and mental health staff.
  • Knowledge of students’ and staff’s perceptions of their safety.
  • Knowledge of problem behaviors that need to be addressed to improve climate.
Threat Assessment Teams A campus threat assessment analyzes campus members’ communications and behaviors to determine whether or not a member may pose a threat. These assessments must be based on fact must comply with applicable privacy, civil rights, and other applicable laws and are often conducted by multi-disciplinary TATs. While a planning team may include the creation of a threat assessment team in its plan, the assessment team is a separate entity from the planning team and meets on its own regular schedule.
  • Students, staff, or other persons that may pose a threat are identified before a threat develops into an incident and are referred for services.
Capacity Assessment The planning team needs to know what resources will be at its disposal. A capacity assessment examines the capabilities of students, faculty, and staff as well as the services and material resources of community partners. This assessment is used to identify individuals on campus with applicable training and skills (e.g., first aid certification, search and rescue training, counseling and mental health expertise, ability to assist individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs). Equipment and supplies should also be inventoried. The inventory should include an evaluation of equipment and supplies uniquely for individuals with disabilities and others with access and functional needs, such as evacuation chairs, the availability of sign language interpreters and technology used for effective communication, accessible transportation, and consumable medical supplies and durable medical equipment that may be necessary during a shelter-in-place or evacuation.
  • An increased understanding of the resources available.
  • Information about staff capabilities will help planners assign roles and responsibilities in the plan.

After conducting these assessments, the planning team should consolidate all of the information it has obtained into a format that is usable for comparing the risks posed by the identified threats and hazards. This information will then be used to assess and compare the threats and hazards, and their likely consequences. This is referred to as a “risk and vulnerability assessment.” One effective method for organizing information is to create a table with a range of information about each possible threat and hazard, including any new threats or hazards identified through the assessment process. The table should include:

  • Probability

    or frequency of occurrence (i.e., how often a threat or hazard may occur);

  • Magnitude

    (i.e., the extent of expected damage);

  • Time

    available to warn staff, students, and visitors;

  • Duration

    (i.e., for how long the hazard or threat will be occurring); and

  • Follow-on

    and cascading effects of threat or hazard.

Prioritize Threats and Hazards

Next, the planning team should use the information it has organized to compare and prioritize the risks posed by threats and hazards. This will allow the team to decide which threats or hazards it will directly address in the plan. The team must consider several factors in order to develop an indicator of risk. One option is a mathematical approach, which assigns index numbers (e.g., a 1-to-4 scale) for different categories of information used in the ranking scheme. Using this approach, the planning team will categorize threats and hazards as posing a relatively high, medium, or low risk. The Table provides a sample risk assessment worksheet for comparing and prioritizing threats and hazards.

Sample Risk Assessment Worksheet

Hazard Probability Magnitude Warning Duration Risk Priority
Fire 4. Highly Likely
3. Likely
2. Possible
1.Unlikely
4. Catastrophic
3. Critical
2. Limited
1. Negligible
4. Minimal
3. 6-12 hrs.
2. 12-24 hrs.
1. 24+ hrs.
4. 12+ hrs.
3. 6-12 hrs.
2. 3-6 hrs.
1. <3 Hours
High
Medium
Low
Hazmat Spill Inside a Campus Building 4. Highly Likely
3. Likely
2. Possible
1.Unlikely
4. Catastrophic
3. Critical
2. Limited
1. Negligible
4. Minimal
3. 6-12 hrs.
2. 12-24 hrs.
1. 24+ hrs.
4. 12+ hrs.
3. 6-12 hrs.
2. 3-6 hrs.
1. <3 Hours
High
Medium
Low

Step 2 Outcome

After completing Step 2, the planning team has a prioritized (high, medium, or low risk) list of threats and hazards based on the results of the risk assessment.