An EOP is a multi-faceted plan that is put in place so the university is prepared to make an appropriate response to risks resulting from unforeseen and unpredictable emergencies. Preparation is imperative because emergencies and the risks they impose cannot be measured before they happen. This is why the EOP is part preparation and part response.
“We as a university are not defined by the things that happen to us, but we define ourselves by how we respond to them,” said Matt Jordan, director of Risk Management. “When emergencies take place the planning, preparation, response and recovery are all expressions of the university. They are outside our normal scope of engagement and that is when we are most at risk.”
This plan, should it ever be implemented, assigns specific responsibilities to various departments so they can do their part in keeping campus safe for everyone who could be affected. The response is viewed as an all-inclusive effort from all entities participating due to the large number of people who can be affected by an emergency and the size of the area that could be affected as well.
“In the Emergency Operations Plan everybody contributes,” said Lt. Ned Watson, Deputy Chief of Police for UPD. “It’s not just police response. If there was an active shooter, yes, the police would respond but there are other things that are involved. There could be infrastructure that is damaged, people that are hurt, there are going to be people that need services of the university like counseling and all of these stakeholders that are involved in this have to be involved in part of the planning, response and the aftermath portion.”
Though the various stakeholders involved in the EOP carry out their own individual tasks it is important that everyone involved works with a team mentality while carrying out their responsibilities following an emergency. This is expressed through the idea of a unified command as one person is in charge while many work to manage a risk that is present.
“There can be any sort of contingency or emergency so we really look at the impact and the risks associated with that,” said Jordan. “It is usually delegated to a specific individual. If it’s a premises related incident it goes to the chief facilities officer, if it’s a public safety concern it usually goes to the chief of police and we typically do this as a group. We typically use unified command which means that we all bring our interests and expertise, but ultimately there is only one person in charge.”
Though the university already has a solid EOP in place they are always looking to improve and update it on a regular basis. A major part of this improvement comes in the form of planning so the University of West Georgia recently created a new position known as the Director of Emergency Management and hired Michael Nelson to fill that role.
Nelson, a retired Naval Flight officer, is no stranger to emergency management. In his time with the military he was on a joint staff that was responsible for the continental U.S. and training all the services. They established an organization known as Joint Task Force Civil Support that works to train people to handle large incidents, primarily regarding chemical and biological disasters, should they happen in the U.S. Following his time with this joint staff Nelson worked as a contractor to teach Marine and Naval staffs to operate weapons systems before he began working for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management in 2007.
In his time as a contractor, Nelson took a Community Emergency Response Team class that trains people in communities how to respond when an emergency happens. Since then he has taken additional courses to become a certified campus CERT instructor and intends on bringing this type of class to UWG.
“The primary goal of CERT is to teach preparedness,” said Nelson. “If you get citizens in your community to take a CERT class they not only learn skills that can help in an emergency, but their family is more prepared.”
Nelson has already spoke to the Emergency Manager for Carroll County in hopes that first responders from the local community could have a role in teaching this course on campus. This training would help students be prepared and equipped to handle immediate emergencies while awaiting professional response.
“The key thing with preparedness is the more prepared people are the less we, as emergency responders or public safety, have to do because people are taking care of themselves,” said Nelson.
Aside from bringing CERT to campus, Nelson is currently creating a new EOP as well as developing a building emergency coordinator plan which would place an emergency coordinator in each building to handle day-to-day tasks and to pass emergency information on to the occupants of that building.
Though people at the university may hope that the EOP never be necessary to implement they can rest easy knowing that improvements are being made to an already thorough plan.