Emergencies in higher education can take many forms; including natural disasters, biohazards, hate crimes, and cyberattacks – among others. However, there are a few key questions that often seem to emerge in the face of a crisis:
How do we deal with this?
Who is going to lead us through the chaos?
How can we better prepare for the next time something like this happens?
How do we prevent something like this from happening again?
While the answers may not be cut and dry, there is some insight to be gained from a recently published needs assessment report on emergency programs at post-secondary institutions in the U.S., conducted by the University of Oregon Community Service Centre. The survey garnered 386 responses from staff of post-secondary institutions across 45 states, and hones in on the importance of emergency preparedness and resilience in higher education.
Just as collaboration between post-secondary institutions supports initiatives aimed at campus inclusivity and accessibility, such connections also have the potential to improve emergency preparedness – a belief held by 91% of survey respondents. Furthermore, in the wake of an emergency, institutions may turn to one another for guidance and share what they have learned through experience. Additionally, working with local, state-level, and national organizations opens the door to further resources and funding, which have been identified as key barriers to emergency management in higher education, along with adequate staffing. As post-secondary institutions strive to shift from reactive to more proactive approaches to emergency preparedness, it is safe to say that they are going to need some help.
One of the report’s concluding recommendations is to embed preparedness within institutional mission statements. As post-secondary students seek out safe spaces to learn and thrive, they will find comfort in explicit indication that their safety and well-being is a key institutional priority. Mission statements guide innovation, uphold integrity and accountability, and contribute to organizational culture. As reflected in a large proportion of survey responses, putting a mission of preparedness into action means creating awareness through improved outreach efforts among students, as well as staff and faculty, who also benefit from preparedness training. Additionally, the highly demonstrated need for leadership commitment demands not only that senior management is engaged and educated in emergency preparedness, but that they are given ample opportunities to engage the rest of the campus community. As many survey participants pointed out, regular participation in safety exercises and awareness campaigns is solidly rooted in K-12 education, making their presence in higher education a seemingly natural progression.
The University of Oregon Community Service Center. (November 2016). National Higher Education Emergency Management Program Needs Assessment. Retrieved from http://www.nccpsafety.org/news/articles/national-higher-education-emergency-management-needs-assessment