Colleges and universities host microcosms of society through student life: housing maintenance, meal planning, classes, and more. These institutions also exist within larger communities. Whether a small college town or a big city, universities and colleges have to coordinate with their outside communities all while monitoring their own internal communities.
These circumstances create many challenges during both daily life and emergencies. Information sharing, tasks delegation, and situational awareness are essential for institutions to establish. But there’s another element to consider: how to coordinate and work with the larger community surrounding the school?
It can be complicated to manage, especially in a crisis when so much is happening and with an impulse to respond as quickly as possible looming overhead. With this in mind, how can colleges and universities coordinate with their local communities to make sure needs are being met without redundancy?
Making Connections: Local Stakeholders
Institutions of higher education, in most cases, are intertwined with their local communities. As a higher education emergency manager, you need to know what the county, towns, and cities around your school are doing and any actions required by state regulations during an emergency.
Although not required, emergency managers in higher education often coordinate with other elementary and high schools during select emergencies. Open communication is a must for these emergency managers and their EOCs. City police can also be a presence on university campuses, another facet that necessitates open communication.
Higher education institutions may also lack certain resources. Their partnership with the local entities and their community comes in. External stakeholders can grant the schools additional resources and come in to assist in management and distribution.
When external stakeholders are involved, who takes the lead can depend on the scope of the emergency. The take-point toss up can cause a breakdown in communication and authority, so higher education EOCs and their emergency managers need tools that keep things as organized as possible.
Prior Knowledge: Special Events
Special events also add a wrinkle; clarity between stakeholders is critical. Colleges and universities should notify their local authorities and leaders of upcoming large events like a commencement, as the occasion will impact the locality with increased traffic and tourism.
During a game day, the paramedics and police stationed throughout the stadium need to check in and coordinate with university EMs. Hospitals and other healthcare entities are also ready to field potential accidents from the celebrations. And in some cases, higher education institutions may be part of a larger network that collectively responds to an emergency through a system office.
Prior to the digitized norm, EOCs would have a representative in the building to represent each set of stakeholders. But now, most people are disparate, and the need to communicate and work together virtually is higher than ever before.
Making the Move to a Platform
Moving to a virtual platform allows schools and their EOCs to wrap in everyone regardless of location. Medical staff can use a platform to talk with an emergency manager on game day and notify a local hospital of an accident on its way to the ER. Most importantly, roles, responsibilities, and tasks can be cleanly assigned beforehand through a plan and launched at will, removing any confusion inherent to coordinating with so many different parties.
Most digital platforms also come with analytics tools built in. Dashboards provide a visual representation of responsibilities as well as a central point of command for everyone to reference. Requesting resources becomes streamlined with forms and workflows. With more and more stakeholders online, be it university EMS, city officials, or other collaborators, communication and situational awareness improve exponentially.
Platforms also enable tabletop exercises and drills. Colleges and universities can either run their own exercises or participate in those run by their local stakeholders, or have school representatives involved as subject matter experts. Exercises build familiarity and provide points of improvement for universities and other stakeholders to work into their plans for real events. Additionally, exercises and drills let schools build a rapport with their local stakeholders, a benefit that stays out of view until it really matters
Universities are in a unique position, as they have to deal with their own internal world while also coordinating with entities outside of campus to handle events and incidents. Digital programs simplify the lift, clearing confusion and ensuring all parties have situational awareness and know their responsibilities.