Step 6: Implement and Maintain the Plan
Train Stakeholders on the Plan and Their Roles
Everyone involved in the plan needs to know their roles and responsibilities before, during and after an emergency. Key training components include the following:
Hold a meeting.
At least once a year, hold a meeting to educate all parties on the plan. Go through the plan to familiarize these stakeholders with it. These meetings should include campus administration, department heads, the PIO, student affairs, community partners (first responders, emergency managers, public and mental health officials), other community entities and stakeholders, as well as the media.
Visit evacuation sites.
Show involved parties not only where evacuation sites are located but also where specific areas, such as media areas and triage areas, will be located.
Give involved parties appropriate and relevant literature on the plan, policies, and procedures.
It may also be helpful to provide all parties with quick reference guides that remind them of key courses of action.
Post key information throughout the building.
It is important that students, faculty, and staff are familiar with and have easy access to information such as evacuation routes and shelter-in-place procedures and locations. Ensure information concerning evacuation routes and shelter-in-place procedures and locations is effectively communicated to students and staff, such as by distributing materials by e-mail in an accessible format.
Familiarize students and staff with the plan and community partners.
Holding open house meetings for community partners, such as law enforcement officers, fire department officials, EMS personnel, emergency managers, public and mental health practitioners as well as the campus community to talk about the plan will make students, faculty, and staff more comfortable working with these partners. Consider involving students who volunteer with community partners and in the community in these events.
Train staff on the skills necessary to fulfill their roles.
Each member of the college community may be assigned specific roles in the plan that will require special skills, such as first aid, threat assessment, using the Incident Command System (ICS), and providing personal assistance services for students and staff with disabilities and others with access and functional needs.
Exercise the Plan
The more a plan is practiced and stakeholders are trained on the plan, the more effectively they will be able to act before, during, and after an emergency to lessen the impact on life and property. Exercises provide opportunities to practice with community partners including first responders and local emergency management as well as to identify gaps and weaknesses in the plan. The exercises below require increasing amounts of planning, time, and resources. Ideally, IHEs will create an exercise program, building from a tabletop exercise up to a more advanced exercise, like a functional exercise.
- Tabletop exercises: Tabletop exercises are small-group discussions that walk through a scenario and the courses of action an IHE will need to take before, during, and after an emergency to lessen the impact on the IHE community. This activity helps assess the plan and resources, and facilitates an understanding of emergency management and planning concepts.
- Drills: During drills, community partners such as first responders and local emergency managers and relevant IHE personnel use the actual campus buildings, facilities, and grounds to practice responding to a scenario.
- Functional exercises: Functional exercises are similar to drills but involve multiple partners. Participants react to realistic simulated events (e.g., a bomb threat or an intruder with a gun in a classroom), and implement the plan and procedures using the ICS.
- Full-scale exercises are the most time-consuming activities in the exercise continuum and are multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional efforts in which all resources are deployed. This type of exercise tests collaboration among the agencies and participants, public information systems, communications systems, and equipment. An Emergency Operations Center is established by either law enforcement or fire services, and the ICS is activated.
Before making a decision about how many and which types of exercises to implement, an IHE should consider the costs and benefits of each, as well as any state or local requirements. For example, while a tabletop exercise may be less costly and less time-consuming to run, a full-scale exercise provides a more realistic context for the simulated response to an emergency situation, thus providing more constructive feedback to improve the plans. Students should be included to the maximum extent possible, and IHEs should also consider whether to include families. The IHE should also take into account the cultural diversity of its population when designing exercises and training.
It is up to the planning team to decide how often exercises should be conducted. Note, however, that IHEs that are subject to the Clery Act are required to test their “emergency response and evacuation procedures” on at least an annual basis (see the section on requirements of The Clery Act).
To effectively execute an exercise
- Include first responders (e.g., law enforcement officers, EMS personnel, fire department officials), local emergency managers, and public and mental health officials;
- Include additional stakeholders such as community organizations;
- Communicate information in advance to avoid confusion and concern;
- Exercise under different and non-ideal conditions (e.g., time of day, weather, points in the academic calendar, absence of key personnel and various IHE events);
- Be consistent with common emergency management terminology;
- Debrief and develop an after-action report that evaluates results, identifies gaps or shortfalls, and documents lessons learned; and
- Discuss how the higher ed EOP and procedures will be modified, if needed, and specify who has the responsibility for modifying the plan.
Review, Revise, and Maintain the Plan
This step closes the loop in the planning process. It focuses on adding the information gained from exercising the plan to the research collected in Step 2, starting the planning cycle over again. Remember, planning is a continuous process even after the plan is published. Plans should evolve as the IHE and planning team learn lessons, obtain new information and insights, and update their priorities.
Reviews should be a recurring activity. Planning teams should establish a process for reviewing and revising the plan. Many IHEs review their plans on an annual basis. In no case should any part of a plan go for more than 2 years without being reviewed and revised.
Some IHEs have found it useful to review and revise portions instead of reviewing the entire plan at once. IHEs may consider reviewing a portion each month or at natural breaks in the academic calendar. Certain events will also provide new information that will be used to inform the plan. IHEs should consider reviewing and updating their plans or sections of their plans after
- Actual emergencies;
- Changes have been made in policy, personnel, organizational structures, processes, facilities, or equipment;
- Formal updates of planning guidance or standards have been finalized;
- Formal exercises have taken place;
- Changes in the IHE and surrounding community have occurred;
- Threats or hazards change or new ones emerge; or
- Ongoing assessments generate new information.
The planning team should ensure that all first responders, local emergency management, and all community partners have the most current version of the higher ed EOP.