In a typical Continuity of Operation Plan (COOP) for a school or university, the primary objectives are the maintenance of life support and environmental health services. Often, schools and universities focus on responding to emergency events and place less emphasis on continuity planning. As a result, continuity-planning issues sometimes are not addressed adequately. This appears to be particularly true for major disasters that damage multiple facilities.
Most schools or universities have not experienced a major disaster such as an earthquake, hurricane or tornado. Although these types of events are rare, most institutions are at risk on some level. Without a good COOP, a school or university may encounter problems returning to normal operations. If a disaster causes educational activities to be cancelled for several weeks, administrators may have to consider extending a semester or even suspending classes for a semester. Organizing a COOP for such incidents can help schools rebound from an emergency situation.
Rigid organizational structures normally are not found within the educational community. The usual approach is to address a problem, establish a committee to analyze the facts, and make recommendations. This committee-management style assembles a large range of ideas and generally produces satisfactory results. This approach is acceptable in developing a COOP, but will not work effectively for executing a COOP during an emergency.
Quick decisions regarding appropriate responses are necessary in an emergency. Often, there is not time to gather and analyze various opinions. Also, a single individual must be in charge; if that individual is not present, a “chain of command” must be in place. This type of management structure is not common in an academic community.
An Emergency Response Team (ERT) can be established for responding to emergencies. The ERT can use the Incident Command System. This is a recognized, effective management approach used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make tactical decisions during an emergency. The use of the Incident Command System also will help schools work with responding government entities that use the same organizational structure.
Together with the ERT, schools and universities can designate an Emergency Management Team (EMT) to determine the institution's policy. The EMT is an assemblage of senior-level officials that advise and assist in emergency-related policy decisions.