Emergency planning is a critical task for every higher education institution. Typically the campus emergency management coordinator and public safety department work closely together developing the plan. One of the most important emergency assets on any campus is the facilities department. Incorporating facilities operations is often an afterthought. This can be a serious oversight in the aftermath of a major disaster.
The Contingency Mission of the Facilities Department
During a disaster the facilities department should have four missions: assess damage, clear debris, retrofit facilities, and assist with rescue operations.
Doing a quick assessment of each campus building provides vital safety and operational information to the campus emergency operations center. They know what facilities are safe, which facilities pose a hazard, and the general condition of the campus infrastructure. This preliminary examination can help to prioritize the full evaluation by a licensed structural engineer. The facilities department can also assess the condition of campus streets.
Debris clearance is an important job during disaster response. Colleges and universities should have a list of streets and campus locations they determine to be critical. These locations are connected to vital roadways or important buildings that require access during the disaster response. They can be prioritized based on the conditions revealed during the damage assessment.
In the aftermath of a disaster there are locations that may be repurposed to handle disaster related tasks (ex: storing supplies, emergency sheltering, instructional purposes). Skilled workers from the Facilities Department may be tasked with retrofitting a location to prepare it for instructional use.
Assisting with Rescues
The facilities department can be an important part of rescue operations by assisting the fire department or emergency services. Most facilities departments do not have the specialized training needed for collapsed building searches but they can help support urban search and rescue operations. Facilities personnel have technical information that rescuers may need during extended rescue operations. The facilities department may also be able to assist the responders by providing equipment to clear areas allowing rescuers better access.
Integrating Facilities Operations in the Main Emergency Plan
By integrating facilities operations into the emergency plan response and recovery operations will be improved. This requires pre event planning to determine what specific missions the facilities may be needed for during a disaster. In a severe weather event trees may be downed blocking critical access. Critical campus infrastructure should be prioritized for operational assessments and emergency repairs. By developing a list of these locations the facilities department can prepare their personnel to anticipate what they may be asked to do during a disaster.
What Types of Plans Does a Facilities Department Need?
A facilities department needs three types of plans. Emergency plans cover what the department will do during a campus emergency. This should include plans and procedures for emergency recalls and mobilization. These types of plans allow personnel to immediately go to work instead of standing around while the leadership gets something organized.
Continuity of operations plans involves how the department will stay operational during a disaster. This type of plan focuses on plans and procedures to ensure basic facilities functions can be maintained during the disaster. The final piece is a recovery plan. The goal of recovery planning is returning the campus to conditions and capabilities that existed prior to the disaster.
How Should They be Organized?
The first step in organization is having a central management point for the facilities department. During normal operations the department may be divided into various sub departments and based at different locations on campus. This needs to be unified with a single management point. This is often referred to as a Department Operations Center (DOC). The capabilities of the facilities department should be typed indicating what capabilities and expertise they can provide.
Department Operations Center
The DOC is the management point where the campus emergency operations center can get information, request assistance, or direct operations. The DOC manages all facilities operations and tracks their progress. If possible the DOC should have a fixed location where they can be reached anytime the emergency operations center is activated.
During disasters managers overseeing response operations often wish to go to the field for a firsthand look. If you do not have a DOC blackouts can occur when the responsible manager is out of the office and no one know exactly where they are. As long as there is a contact person answering the DOC phone the facilities department is still in contact with the campus emergency operations center.
Specialized Skills Teams
There are two types of specialized skills teams campuses should consider. The first is an initial response team made up by specialists from the various skills areas (Ex: electrical, water, carpentry). This team serves as the first response to any facilities related emergency on campus. The team may respond and discover the problem is beyond their capabilities requiring another type of skilled team. This is a skilled team with a single specialization such as all plumbers or electricians. This team provides additional skilled personnel to deal with a single source problem.
Campuses should develop a multi-level debris removal capability organized into teams. These teams reflect the type of debris they can clear. This can be as simple as a pair of custodial personnel with push brooms and a trash can to sweep up broken glass. The teams should be organized with progressively heavier equipment and greater personnel expertise. The other types of debris removal teams should be able to clear downed trees and safely remove exterior debris from buildings. The number of personnel and the extent of their equipment will allow the Facilities DOC to offer realistic expectations to the campus EOC on timelines for debris removal. Campuses should develop debris removal plans include where to temporarily pile debris and how it will be permanently removed from campus.
How Should They be Trained?
Training for disaster response and recovery should occur at three levels: basic emergency response, operational skills, and facilities disaster management.
All facilities employees should have a basic understanding of emergency procedures and the campus emergency operations plan. This training should include hazard recognition and safety training for hazards they may encounter while responding (ex: electrical dangers, hazardous materials, collapsed buildings/confined spaces and fires.) It does not make them hazmat experts or firefighters but alerts them to threats and hazards they may encounter. Many campuses provide Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training as the preliminary introduction to emergency operations. These courses are free and usually offered by local fire departments.
Facilities departments should ensure field employees have a common core of basic skills they may need during a disaster. All field personnel should receive this training. It may include skills such as operating a front loader, using a chainsaw, or setting up a sump pump. All field employees should be trained to use portable radios if they are available. This does not make them experts but provides a basic understanding of the tools and equipment that will be needed.
Operational training should be conducted by the various specialized skills teams. They need to train together working through simulated emergency problems. The training should include sufficient personnel to ensure all positions are filled during a real emergency.
Facilities Disaster Management
Managers and supervisor should receive advanced training. The American Public Works Association and the FEMA Emergency Management Institute have developed four on-line courses that provide a basic introduction to public works operations during a disaster. They are free and available through the FEMA online education program.
The facilities management team should conduct internal exercises and participate in campus wide emergency tabletop exercises.
How Should They be Equipped?
All facilities employees should have basic Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). This should include a hard hat, work gloves, dust mask, eye protection, and a reflective vest which identifies their department. The department needs equipment to support the missions identified in the campus and facilities department emergency plan. They need secondary equipment that allows for 24 hours and limited utility operations such as generators or work lights. The department needs to store initial supplies of fuel for campus operations until a refuel mission can be planned or an off campus fuel source is located.
Facilities department should consider using a secured location like a large storage container to store basic supplies. Often times facilities managers rely on tools and equipment used in daily operations. These resources may not be easy to locate in a disaster. It is better to have basic equipment stored for the single purpose of disaster operations. This ensures the tools will be on hand and in serviceable condition 24/7. These resources can be supplemented by field equipment used daily.
Putting it All Together: UCLA “DIRT”
Campuses across the country have taken the issues of emergency operations and facilities departments very seriously. A good example is the UCLA Disaster Initial Response Team (DIRT). The UCLA DIRT maintains an initial roll out team which includes all basic facilities specialties which is available 24/7. This can be supplemented by a single specialty team with more personnel or the entire facilities department.
The DIRT teams are trained by LA City Fire Department CERT for light search and rescue and complete Red Cross First Aid and CPR training. They are trained to do initial damage and hazard assessments. They are trained to report structural failures and locations requiring debris removal.
Facilities departments need to be prepared for disasters. They need to know their core missions and be part of the campus emergency plan. They need a department emergency, continuity, and recovery plan. They need to be organized into teams to support their missions. They need training from basic skills to disaster management supplemented by field and tabletop exercises. They must be equipped with PPE and have the tools needed for mission success. Campus facilities departments are a critical part of the emergency management and response framework for higher education.
© R.Mason, 2016