Disasters and tragedies over the last decade have motivated colleges and universities to develop emergency management plans, but very little information has been collected to give campus officials a sense of how their programs compare to their neighbors and peer institutions.
The findings of a new University of Central Florida survey  may begin to change that, by spreading the assessments of more than 100 campus safety leaders on the factors that they consider key to building a “disaster resilient university”: an institution that is well-prepared to prevent and respond to emergencies of all kinds.
Just 13 percent of respondents -- a mix of emergency management, public safety and police officials -- said they were "very confident" that their campuses would be disaster resilient. Another 48.8 percent said they agreed or somewhat agreed that their institutions would handle a disaster well.
While other studies have looked at whether small groups of campuses  have plans targeted at certain kinds of threats, such as biological agents or an active shooter, there was no aggregated data on how colleges and universities operate their emergency management programs, said Naim Kapucu, an associate professor of public administration who prepared the survey.
After winning an Emergency Management for Higher Education grant from the U.S. Department of Education last year to improve UCF’s emergency plans, Kapucu decided it was essential to get a broader idea of how programs operate. “We're trying to learn what methods universities are using” to prepare for emergencies, he said. “We found that this information wasn’t out there, that nobody knows what anyone else is doing, but we wanted to find out.”
Kapucu sent the voluntary survey to the 450-member Disaster Resilient University listserv, which is based at the University of Oregon, as well as to universities that received 2008 Education Department emergency management grants or participated in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Resistant University Initiative.
The survey asked respondents to provide information on seven categories: preparedness levels, plan characteristics, leadership, community involvement, information management and communication, continuity of operations, and training and exercises.
Eighty-five percent of respondents reported that their institutions had to some degree developed and implemented all-hazards comprehensive emergency plans, though only about a third of respondents said they had a FEMA-approved hazard mitigation plan.
Much of the survey focused on learning how emergency management systems operate. “We wanted to see how other universities are handling having academic units, administrative units and students, as well as the surrounding communities, work together on emergency management,” Kapucu said.
Three quarters of respondents reported that their institutions had a formal emergency management or campus safety advisory committee; 95 percent of the panels included a president, provost or other senior administrator. Just 18.3 percent of the committees included students, while 63.4 percent included faculty.
Nearly all respondents -- 96.3 percent -- said their institutions collaborate with police, fire and other first respondents in developing emergency plans. Most also said they worked with municipal emergency management offices and nonprofit relief organizations like the Red Cross in formulating plans.
Just 22.5 percent indicated that their institutions had added emergency management positions following disasters like the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina. One third said new positions were created following the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007.