New Online Emergency Management Plan Unveiled at Conference

News Story: September 22, 2009

SHU hosts conference to train emergency departments in using progressive online system to bolster campus security.

From right, Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security Commissioner Peter J. Boynton spoke during the conference. Looking on were SHU's Executive Director of Emergency Management Paul Healy, Director of Public Safety Jack Fernandez and Public Safety Manager Addlie Dennis-Manson.

On Thursday, September 17, Sacred Heart University hosted representatives from local, state and federal emergency services for a conference to demonstrate its new emergency web-based Comprehensive All-Hazard and Business Continuity Plan.

The conference was attended by members of the fire, police, EMS and health services from Trumbull, Bridgeport and Fairfield, along with representatives of the Connecticut Department of Public Safety, FEMA’s Region 1 office in Boston and the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, and the Connecticut commissioner for Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

Connecticut General Statute, Chapter 185 Higher Education at section 10a – 55a requires colleges and universities to provide state and municipal emergency services partners with campus emergency plans, but SHU went several steps further in making their plan available online, where it can be dynamic and interactive. The system includes building plans, information about specific facilities, and site pictures of every aspect of the buildings.

“We’ve worked diligently to create an emergency plan that is readily available to the university community by moving away from a static written document,” says Paul Healy, SHU’s Executive Director for Emergency Management and Public Safety.

After researching available software for posting SHU’s emergency plans online, Healy noted their cost range of $40,000 to $140,000. Instead he consulted with the university’s department of Information Technology and learned that SHU already had all the resources to create its own proprietary system. The result is a living document utilizing Microsoft SharePoint software that makes the emergency plan accessible 24 hours a day, every day of the year, to all of SHU’s municipal, state and federal emergency services partners.

Healy says that while there was a learning curve in creating the system from scratch, the effort benefits the university in many ways. “There were no external costs — we saved on software, updates and licensing fees,” he says. “But the other benefit is now we have something that we’ve created, which means we also understand it better.”

The critical benefit of the system, Healy notes, is they ability for emergency services partners to be able to contribute back. “They can do a tactical review our internal systems, and they will be able to write authoritative reports and upload their own documents,” Healy says. “Then our plans can be reviewed, modified and updated online, all with the input and collaboration of the first responder agencies.”The purpose of the conference was to roll out the system to all the emergency services SHU partners with, and to train them in how to use it. “Everyone was provided with access accounts to be able to go into our system look at our emergency plans at any time,” Healy says. “We did the rollout, we explained the system, and they left with a DVD tutorial providing them with screen shots and instructional information on how to access the system and how to upload their own documents, as well as to review ours and comment on content and updated information.”

Healy says that attendees of the conference seemed impressed with the system, and that they found the online capability to be “extremely valuable.”

“It is imperative that we have good, fluid working relationships with our emergency partners, and that they fully understand our campus layout and our facilities, and this system enables SHU to do that even better than before,” Healy says. “Plus, it makes for a truly more collaborative process. We can more easily communicate emergency plans, get feedback from authorities, and improve the plans. The ultimate purpose is to improve campus safety and security measures, and to be able to respond in a timely fashion to any emergency incident that may occur.”