In an effort to streamline operations and ensure a seamless response to crises and emergencies, Washington University in St. Louis has integrated its business continuity and emergency management efforts into a unified program that spans the Danforth and Medical campuses.
“Universities are large and complex organizations with a multitude of needs across functions,” said Henry S. Webber, executive vice chancellor for administration. “In the event of a crisis, we must be prepared to respond quickly and appropriately in a way that brings together the necessary people and resources to manage the incident. This applies not only to our response to the emergency itself, but also to our need to maintain normal business operations, particularly in the area of patient care.
“Merging these functions across our campuses is a critical step in making that happen.”
Emergencies at other institutions in recent years have highlighted a need for universities to come up with better disaster-preparedness plans, including how to continue to function during crises, said Melissa Hopkins, assistant vice chancellor and assistant dean of operations and facilities management at the School of Medicine. Hopkins oversees the new business continuity/emergency management program.
“We realized the importance of creating a comprehensive plan that included these two groups so we can minimize the impact of an emergency,” she said. “You want patients still to be cared for, students to be able to continue to learn, and scientists to be able to conduct their work.”
John Ursch, senior director of public safety and campus services at the School of Medicine, oversees day-to-day operations of the new program. “This new approach makes us more streamlined and able to more cohesively handle situations on one or both campuses,” he said.
Business continuity is the ability of the university to maintain its daily operations during a disaster, Hopkins explained. Emergency management includes how businesses prepare for, respond to, minimize the effects of, and recover from a crisis.
The mission of the integrated program, Hopkins said, is to make the university more resilient during disasters through an integrated, all-hazards approach to emergency management.
The program will provide structure and support for universitywide business continuity and management. It will streamline core emergency management functions — including campus operations centers, emergency alert systems and communications — between campuses while still maintaining direct liaisons for the Medical Campus and Danforth and associated campuses.
The new structure also will allow for essential emergency planning functions to be shared, and safety programs such as fire drills and training to be enhanced, according to Ty Davisson, director of emergency management and business continuity.
“With the new organization, we are unified in our approach and do not work in silos,” he said. “Our goal is to have a more comprehensive way to work together for the good of the university, and to be better prepared for any type of disaster.”
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