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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pig Sty: A Glimpse Inside the Emergency Operations Center

The Swine Flu epidemic afforded the Trinity Crisis Management Team (CMT) an opportunity to test some of the procedures that have been developed over the last several years for just such a scenario.

Most Universities have had crisis teams in place for some time. Former VP at Trinity, Gage Paine, established here around 2001. Katrina as well as the Virginia Tech crisis forced everyone to take a closer look at their own procedures, and like us, many institutions have ramped up their crisis teams. At Trinity, under the guidance of VP Felicia Lee, the team has refined procedures (a never-ending task), bolstered campus alerts (such as TU-alert), practiced for potential scenarios, and developed a web page to prepare people for an emergency.

The CMT convened when news of the H1N1 virus, and its potential to become a major pandemic, first broke. The CMT has an emergency operations center on campus that is normally used as a meeting room. The team quickly assumed control of that room and scheduled daily morning meetings to discuss the possible crisis. In an emergency such as this, the CMT, and others from affected offices (Athletics, International Programs) are afforded an opportunity to be thoughtful and proactive. Gary Neal, director of Counseling and Health Services, assumed the role of incident commander. Jackie Bevilacqua led the enormous Health Services effort to see, test, and assure the many students who reported potential flu cases.

University Communications quickly posted a web page as a source of information for all community members, including parents. Fewer than five e-mails were sent to the Trinity community about the epidemic and the University response.

The CMT quickly identified the priorities to be student and employee health and safety, thorough and measured communications, and contingency planning for worst-case scenarios. These contingencies included closing the campus, providing housing for those who couldn't travel, cancelling classes or finals, and cancelling events, and business continuity. Fortunately, these plans have remained on the shelf and the University has continued to operate under normal conditions.

The challenge in situations such as this is to be reactive, decisive, and open while not over-reacting or being inert. The leadership of Dr. Neal with strong assistance from Felicia Lee and Environmental Safety Coordinator Hal Lovejoy was critical in managing this situation. As always, the team learned where there are holes and where it can improve. By having a strong team in place, however, the community should feel some assurance that the efforts to strengthen this important team will benefit all of us in times of crisis. How did the CMT do? Take the poll at right to let us know.

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