Is your campus community ready to respond if an armed gunman opens fire in the quad? What if a deadly epidemic sweeps through your residence halls? What if there’s a hurricane, tornado or flood?

If any of these disasters occur, faculty members, staff and students will look to you for leadership. That’s why it’s vital that you have a comprehensive crisis-management plan in place.

Members of Dean & Provost’s advisory board participated in a conference call to discuss how their institutions created, maintain and use their crisis-management plans. They were Herman Berliner, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Hofstra University; Lucinda Lavelli, dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Florida; and Maria Vallejo, campus provost and chief executive officer at Palm Beach State College’s Lake Worth Campus.

Each of the advisory board members’ institutions has a comprehensive written plan that’s easy to access if an emergency situation arises. At UF, each faculty and staff member has a folder with step-by-step instructions for what to do in a crisis, Lavelli said. They keep it on their desks. It’s also online.

The crisis plans contain specific instructions. But they have to be simple enough to use during an emergency. People don’t have time for much reading when they need to respond quickly, Lavelli said.

Creating the plan

If your institution’s plan needs major work, initiate an effort to improve it. “Start talking through all the issues,” Berliner said. Consider what structure for improving it makes sense for your institution. Hofstra hired a full-time employee five years ago to lead crisis management, Berliner said. She had experience with the New York City Fire Department and has a passion for creating crisis plans, he said.

Officials at Palm Beach State had a crisis plan that focused on hurricanes. A year ago, officials started working on a more comprehensive plan, Vallejo said. They formed a committee that could tap the expertise and input of faculty, staff, administrators and students.

Officials at Palm Beach State have looked to other institutions for best practices. A statewide listserv for deans has been a good resource, Vallejo said.

At UF, consultants have reviewed the institution’s responses to incidents to see what could be improved. A committee also evaluates the responses, Lavelli said.

At Hofstra, administrators discuss incidents at other institutions to determine how they would react and whether their crisis-management plan addresses the situation effectively.

Sharing the plan

The most comprehensive crisis-management plan can’t help your campus unless faculty and staff members all over campus know how to react when an emergency occurs. At Palm Beach State, staff members are being trained by division on what to do in a crisis under the new plan. Many have specific duties. For example, a faculty member might make sure everyone leaves a certain floor if a building is evacuated.

Also, administrators send out information regularly about what to do in emergency situations. For example, every summer they send a reminder about hurricane preparedness.

At Hofstra, deans and others meet for tabletop sessions at which they discuss how they would respond to a particular situation. Topics have included an armed assailant and a massive hurricane. The goal is to figure out how they would get the campus functioning again after the event as quickly as possible, Berliner said.

Preparing technology

Numerous products are available that can help institutions if a crisis arises.

Palm Beach State, Hofstra and UF all have text-messaging systems that will allow them to contact students quickly in case of an emergency.

At Hofstra, public safety officials can lock buildings remotely.

Palm Beach State received a mini grant that enabled the institution to install emergency buttons in classrooms. Two-way speakers will be added so that people in a room can describe their emergency to public safety officials.

The roofs of buildings are being painted with identifying numbers so that emergency responders can find them easily. And there is laminated information posted by the door in each classroom that shows where the exits are and other details that could help in an emergency.

In a crisis, administrators would meet in a predetermined command center on campus, Vallejo said.

Avoiding crises

If situations occur on other campuses, they could provide an opportunity to educate members of your campus community about how to avoid a problem. For example, Hofstra University officials reminded the campus community of the institution’s values when a student at Rutgers University committed suicide after two other students posted videos of his sexual encounter on the Internet (see below).

And in Florida, both UF and Palm Beach State officials rely on the Baker Act, which provides emergency services and temporary detention for mental health evaluations.