Campus Emergency Management & Business Continuity Planning

Posted: 21 Jun, 2023.

Campus-based organisations such as higher education institutes and healthcare providers have a duty to ensure the safety of all staff, students and visitors both on and off site. While serious emergency situations are, thankfully, rare, having robust and well-rehearsed emergency plans will help to minimise the risk to life as far as possible.

Campus-based organisations face a range of potential incidents that require fast and effective response measures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of those impacted. These incidents can vary from traditional emergencies such as fires to more complex and evolving threats such as terror attacks. Each of these threats requires different actions, so having a simple and efficient way to communicate updates is crucial.

For instance, in the event of a fire, sites will need to be evacuated and those impacted may need to be informed when it is safe to return. In a biological safety incident, quarantine measures and geographical controls may need to be put in place to prevent the spread and stop people from entering the affected area.

During recent years, most organisations have faced numerous crisis moments, and how they responded has had a significant impact on how they recovered and have continued to operate.  For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, organisations were required to follow an ever changing set of regulations, requiring regular communications to staff, students and the public. Those with clear and effective business continuity plans have been most successful in minimising harm to their staff, the public and their wider business.

A business continuity plan (BCP) is a system of prevention and recovery from potential organisational threats and disruption. These plans exist to help organisations identify potential threats and put measures in place to reduce the chances of a serious incident. As well as preventing the likelihood of incidents, successful plans will help organisations to reduce their severity and provide a framework for the management of disruptive events. 

Creating an effective incident management and business continuity plan

Business continuity planning is a crucial element of risk management for all organisations. It’s vital to make sure any plan is clear, thorough and accessible.

In today’s ever-changing risk landscape, it’s more important than ever for businesses to prepare for a diverse range of threats. This is especially true for campus-based businesses, which face potential disruptions from various sources, including power outages, cyber-attacks, terrorist attacks, severe weather,  and other unexpected events. In any of these incidences, having a clear plan to follow is critical in determining how successful the outcome is. Here are some steps to consider:

1. Assess the risks and hazards

The first step in developing a business continuity plan is to identify the potential risks and hazards that could disrupt your organisation. This will be different within all industries but could include:

  • Pandemics
  • Cyber-attacks
  • Maintenance emergency
  • Fires
  • Severe weather
  • Terrorist threats
  • First aid

A useful way to identify which threats are relevant to your organisation is to conduct a thorough risk assessment, which will help to determine the likelihood and impact of each risk. By identifying these risks, you can develop a plan to mitigate their impact and minimise the disruption to campus operations.

2. Create your plan

Once you have identified the potential risks and hazards, the next step is to develop a process to follow in the event of each incident. This plan should include emergency response procedures, communication protocols, and contingency plans for critical functions. It’s important to tailor the plan to the unique needs of your campus sites. For example, if you have staff, students or visitors who speak different languages, you should consider how important messages will be communicated to them.

Download our guide to creating an emergency response plan

3. Implement a crisis communications platform

In any crisis, mobilising a response and communicating with key stakeholders are crucial to a successful outcome. One way to create a safer environment and facilitate effective communication is through the use of an emergency alert system, such as Peoplesafe Alert.

Emergency alert systems have the ability to send and track mass notifications to thousands of people simultaneously. With Peoplesafe Alert, 2,000 messages can be sent every second, allowing you to communicate with large populations quickly and easily.

Alternatively, if you only need to mobilise specific individuals, groups can be created on the service portal so that only the necessary people receive notifications.

Specialist communications platforms also provide additional features to increase the effectiveness of the messages being sent. For example, Peoplesafe Alert can override ‘do not disturb’ settings, send repeat notifications to people that have not read or acknowledged the message, and target messages to specific geographic locations.

Applications of emergency notification systems

Some examples of how emergency notification systems can be used during incidents:

Evacuation procedures during fire alarms

Emergency alert tools can be integrated with fire alarms and other existing systems. This integration allows for pre-created notifications to be automatically triggered when a fire alarm is raised, streamlining the communication process, mobilising the correct people and saving vital time.

During a fire alarm, an emergency notification system equipped with geofencing can aid in safely evacuating the site. Geofencing allows for the creation of virtual perimeters around specific areas, enabling targeted alerts to be sent to individuals within those boundaries. This would allow for a notification to be sent to only the relevant recipients, informing them of evacuation procedures. By not alerting those outside of the affected area, organisations can prevent unnecessary panic or confusion.

The ability to send repeat notifications allows organisations to continue alerting recipients of the situation until they respond, ensuring that everyone affected has successfully received the information. Additionally, the reporting capabilities aid compliance with BS 22301 and allow administrators to track which respondents have confirmed their safety.  When recipients have not opened the message, appropriate follow-up steps can be taken to ensure they are safe and receive the necessary information.

Lockdown procedures in response to active shooter situations or terror threats

Lockdown procedures are critical for ensuring the safety and security of individuals during incidents such as terror threats. When a terror incident arises, emergency notification systems can rapidly deliver communications to thousands of people every second, ensuring no time is wasted in communicating instructions.

Peoplesafe Alert allows for message templates to be predefined, prior to incidents occurring.  This means that organisations can create clear and concise messaging for potential incidents ahead of time, rather than having to create the messaging while under the stress of an ongoing incident. This helps to ensure that messages are effective and avoids the confusion of unclear communications.

Emergency alert systems allow organisations to maintain control of the messaging. Communications are sent from a centralised, trusted source and cannot be forwarded on, ensuring everyone has the most up-to-date and relevant information. For example, confirming when it is safe to exit areas that have been placed under lockdown restrictions.  By enabling swift and widespread communication, these systems enhance coordination, efficiency, and overall safety.

Protecting against cyber threats 

In the event of a cyber threat, communicating with and warning students and staff to be vigilant is crucial. Ideally, any crisis communication tool will be cloud-based, thus creating a degree of separation from central servers.

Peoplesafe Alert is air-gapped and removed from internal systems, which means it will not be compromised by internal downtime. This separation prevents the spread of cyber threats, such as malware, from affecting the emergency notification system and means organisations can always communicate critical information to employees, stakeholders, and other relevant parties in the event of a cyber security threat.

Read our case study to learn how a building society is using our technology to combat cyber-attacks

The ability to override ‘do not disturb’ settings also allows organisations to ensure employees have received and read important messages before starting work for the day. In a situation where a cyber-attack has taken place, a tool with this capability could be crucial by informing employees of the circumstances and ensuring they avoid increasing the severity of the incident.

Reasons to prioritise business continuity planning

Prioritising business continuity planning is crucial for organisations as it not only helps to protect business operations but can save lives and have wider business benefits.

Save lives

Any disaster, whether it is a virus outbreak, flooding, power outage, fire, or cyber-attack, can have serious and dangerous consequences. By having robust measures in place, you can communicate with staff and initiate an effective response that reduces downtime and prioritises safety.

Find out more about the upcoming legislation

Comply with the Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill

The Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill, also known as ‘Martyn’s Law’, is due to come into force in 2023 and will introduce a legal obligation for the owners and operators of publicly accessible locations (PALs) to take measures to protect the public from terrorist attacks and increase public safety. Premises with the capacity for more than 100 individuals fall into the scope of this new piece of legislation with enhanced duties placed upon venues that can hold more than 800 people.

Locations with these levels of public capacity will be expected to undertake a standard terrorism evaluation with enhanced terror risk assessments required from premises with enhanced duties. A new regulator will be appointed and given powers to fine organisations that do not comply.

Find out more about the upcoming legislation

Maintain efficiency

By developing and implementing a comprehensive business continuity plan, organisations can minimise the impact of unexpected disruptions and ensure continuity of operations. Statistics from Gartner, reveal that the average cost of IT downtime is about £4,000 per minute and 98% of businesses claim that a single hour of downtime costs over £80,000. This means that proper planning can save organisations from potentially detrimental costs.

Attract & retain

Having a proper business continuity plan in place can have a significant impact on how safe employees feel at work. Additionally, statistics show that employees who feel safer tend to be happier; happy workers are 13% more productive and are 44% more likely to stay at their jobs longer than unhappy employees.

Within education, 88% of international students say a strong campus safety and security program influences what university they’ll attend.

This shows that by investing in safety measures, organisations can create an environment that promotes productivity, attracts talent, and enhances their reputation. A positive reputation when it comes to security can also become a distinguishing factor to set organisations apart from competitors to attract top staff and students.

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