The Oregon Trail: An Exploratory Case Study for Higher Education Emergency Management Programs

Kelly Dunn

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Institutions of higher education (IHEs) are key members of their communities and are considered partners in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “whole community” concept.[1] In times of disaster, IHEs often provide shelter, assistance, and resources to their communities. Because disasters begin and end locally, campuses must be prepared and resilient in order to recover quickly and ensure their education mission continues. Enhancing campus preparedness, response, and recovery in catastrophes could improve the overall resiliency of the jurisdictions in which IHEs reside. However, emergency preparedness and management programs in higher education are still under-developed despite the vast amount of research, surveys, and planning documents provided to them by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Education. Incident after incident, common issues arise in IHE preparedness.

This research set out to discover what recurring issues scholars commonly identify in higher education emergency management programs. A literature review showed that recurring issues tend to fall into three broad categories: resources, planning, and engagement.[2] More specifically:

  • lack of resources to support emergency management programs—such as emergency management staffing, mutual aid agreements, and budget dollars;
  • incomplete plans for emergency management assessment, response, and recovery (e.g., emergency operation plans, adequate hazard and vulnerability analysis, continuity planning); and
  • absence of engagement from all levels within the institution, most notably in upper management.[3]

Many surveys, assessments, and studies have looked at the emergency preparedness of higher education institutions; however, year after year, few changes are seen improving the areas of planning, engagement, and resources. IHE emergency management programs and roles within those programs are ill-defined and, regardless of the national climate and policy guidance, there has been little progressive change in the academic community regarding campus preparedness and resiliency. What these compounding studies and surveys indicate is that having a plan completed does not ensure the campus is prepared to respond. There are a number of interdependencies in play when discussing planning, engagement, and resources. Often, lack of staffing in emergency management is blamed on budget constraints; poor planning or infrequent training and exercises could themselves be due to lack of staff, and campus community engagement could be blamed on not having enough training and exercises. Undoubtedly, it is difficult to influence one area without affecting others.

In addition to these recurring issues, the average budget trend of IHEs is declining, which means less funding for emergency management activities.[4] Universities and colleges have to strategically look toward the future. With ever-changing technology, rising disaster frequency, and the possibility of continued budget cuts, academic institutions need to ensure preparedness goals are achieved before something happens. These issues are not new to the higher education community, nor have they been solved by the smorgasbord of federal guidance documents; new solutions are needed.

This research reviews the Oregon Campus Resilience Consortium’s plan to improve emergency management programming and resiliency in IHEs across the state. In doing so, it also evaluates how the consortium’s plan might address the recurring emergency management issues (planning, engagement, and resources) found in the literature. Ultimately, the research showed that the Oregon model could provide positive solutions in a number of areas. The continuity, communication, and collaboration between universities and colleges across the state through shared services, all-hazards incident management teams (IMTs), statewide training, and online resource-sharing will provide uniformity in planning, training, and response. The all-hazards IMT will also align with the state IMT, opening the lines of communication and seamlessly tying IHEs into a state response. Frequent communication with the governor’s office, legislature, and campus presidents can bring visibility and accountability for emergency management in IHEs, and can eliminate unknowns for the state’s leadership. Finally, collaboration through the National Intercollegiate Mutual Aid Agreement with IHEs nationwide can provide additional stakeholders and support for the Oregon system. Once the Oregon model has been implemented, this case study can be used as a baseline for tracking what changes and gaps the Oregon model fills and could inform other states about how something similar may or may not work in their own region.

Emergency managers have more to do than plan and respond for disaster; they need to think strategically about the future of higher education and emergency management needs as the world rapidly changes. Past case studies and lessons learned have offered historical narratives and helped IHEs understand why decisions were made and what, at that point in time, was lacking or needed. However, IHEs must look strategically at their preparedness programs and determine how they will be funded, supported, and continued as the requirements of homeland security become harder to meet and the funds for higher education decrease. Imagining a future in emergency management where everything is connected, planning is understood, and response is seamless provides a hopeful vision for what IHE programs could look like. IHEs must determine what works well and what does not so future emergency management programs can flourish. Oregon will be a model to watch and, as the program unfolds, states can take what works from Oregon and implement it in their own jurisdictions, leaving behind whatever portions of the Oregon model are not effective. Building programs off proven tactics will lead to a more robust IHE system and contribute to the overall resiliency of the nation.

 

 

[1] Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Response Framework, third edition (Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security, 2016), 6, https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1466014682982-9bcf8245ba4c60c120aa915abe74e15d/National_Response_Framework3rd.pdf; FEMA, A Whole Community Approach to Emergency Management: Principles, Themes, and Pathways for Action, FDOC 104–008-1 (Washington, DC: Department of Homeland Security, 2011), 4, www.fema.gov/
media-library/assets/documents/23781; Elaine Pittman, “Remember: All Disasters Are Local, Says FEMA Deputy Administrator,” Emergency Management, November 14, 2011, http://www.govtech.com/em/
disaster/Remember-All-Disasters-Are-Local-Says-FEMA-Deputy-Administrator.html.

[2] National Center for Campus Public Safety, “National Higher Education Emergency Management Program Needs Assessment” (report, National Center for Campus Public Safety, 2016), ii–viii, http://www.nccpsafety.org/news/articles/national-higher-education-emergency-management-needs-assessment; Campus Safety & Security Project, “Results of the National Campus Safety and Security Project Survey” (report, Campus Safety & Security Project, 2007), 29–33, https://theoxfordconclave.org/
wp-content/uploads/2017/09/CSSPSurveyResults.pdf; Dennis K. Sullivan, “2011 Higher Education Emergency Management Survey,” Journal of Chemical Health and Safety 19, no. 4 (July 2012): 36–43, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jchas.2011.10.001; Margolis Healy Solutions for Safe Campuses, Margolis Healy Campus Safety Survey (Burlington, VT: Margolis Healy Solutions for Safe Campuses, 2015), http://www.margolishealy.com/files/resources/2015MargolisHealy_CampusSafetySurvey_1.pdf.

[3] National Center for Campus Public Safety, “Needs Assessment,” ii–vii; Campus Safety & Security Project, “Results of Survey,” 29–33; Sullivan, “2011 Higher Education Emergency Management Survey”; Margolis Healy, Campus Safety Survey.

[4] Michael Mitchell, Michael Leachman, and Kathleen Materson, “A Lost Decade in Higher Education Funding,” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, August 23, 2017, https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/a-lost-decade-in-higher-education-funding.

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