SHU Disaster Preparedness Plan Wins Praise and Awards for Innovation

News Story: June 1, 2010

Colleges and universities across the country are mandated by federal law to draft and maintain emergency and incident management plans, especially in this post-Sept. 11, 2001 world.

The comprehensive and uniquely flexible web-based Compliance All-Hazard and Business Continuity Plan created by Sacred Heart University’s emergency management personnel has drawn attention, praise and several national awards. The most recent is the National Association of College and University Business Officers’ 2010 Innovation Award.

“We feel good about the recognition that our plan has received, but more important than awards is the knowledge that our plan contains more information and better information than past plans, and during an emergency situation this plan could help save lives,” said Paul Healy, executive director for SHU’s Emergency Management and Department of Public Safety.

The Innovation Award will be presented to SHU at NACUBO’s annual conference in California this July. SHU’s Vice President of Finance, Phil McCabe, will attend the conference to receive the award on behalf of the University.

The NACUBO Innovation Award seeks to honor the achievement of higher education institutions in two areas of business and financial administration: Process Improvement – recognizing an institution’s successfully re-engineered or designed program that improves service delivery in response to a campus need, and Resource Enhancement – recognizing institutions that have successfully reduced costs, increased revenues or improved productivity.

SHU’s disaster preparedness plan has done both. It has improved the coordination of communications with federal, state and municipal emergency responders including police, fire, emergency medical services and health agencies in the event of a natural or man-made disaster; and it has saved the University a significant amount of money.

“Our previous plan was in a three-ring binder and it sat on a shelf and was only accessible to some key people. The impetus was to find an architecture to house the plan that could be easily updated and accessible 24/7,” Healy said.

What Healy and his team created was a “living document” that is an integrated, fully-accessible, online, interactive system. It gives external partner agencies the opportunity to conduct their own site assessments and tactical reviews on campus to plan their responses in the event of an emergency at SHU.

“Our external partners all received credentials and permissions to get into the emergency management master plan,” Healy said.

Jack Fernandez, SHU’s director of Public Safety, said the University unveiled the Compliance All-Hazard and Business Continuity Plan last September. “For municipal police and other emergency personnel to be able to see the campus as a whole allows them to better plan and respond to any type of emergency,” Fernandez said.

The plan can be updated at any time to reflect changes on campus, including floor plans and photographs of newly constructed buildings and any renovations to existing structures. Those revisions are immediately available to authorized users, among them University officials and intra-agency partners.

“As soon as I make even a slight modification to a document it’s accessible immediately. I don’t have to make 42 copies and run around campus distributing a new page of information and asking people to remove one page and replace it with a new page,” Healy said.

This web-based Comprehensive All-Hazard and Business Continuity Plan has saved SHU at least $40,000 and perhaps as much as $140,000. That is the price range of commercially available packages, depending on licensing and consulting costs. Healy and his team developed their online Comprehensive All-Hazard and Business Continuity Plan on their own over a two-month period, largely by configuring standard features of Microsoft® Office SharePoint® Server 2007, rather than developing custom code. Extensive staff training was also unnecessary.

“We already had a Microsoft Enterprise license and SharePoint was a component of our licensing so it didn’t cost us anything. The process of building the plan to our own specifications with our IT people and our public safety people means we’re not relying on any external software vendors or third-party vendors to run our system,” Healy said.

SHU’s plan also won the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) 2009 Award for Technology and Innovation.