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This is a test…NC State Crisis Exercise

This is a test.  There is nothing wrong with your cell phone. There is nothing wrong with your computer.  You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… the NC State Hazardous Materials Emergency Simulation!  Thank goodness it was only a test.

Yesterday I participated in my first test of the university’s crisis communications plan.  About 60 people gathered in the press room at Vaughn Towers around 8 a.m. and worked through a drill which would force us all to take our crisis and business continuity plans out of mothballs and actually use them.

The scenario called for a fire and explosion involving hazardous materials at the university’s environmental health and safety center adjacent to Wolf Village on the edge of central campus.  The fire produced a cloud of smoke with unknown properties being carried over Wolf Village by the prevailing winds.  Evacuations of students were called for and a number of business operations were relocated.  Media called. Parents called. Faculty and staff called.

By the end of the exercise, the fire had been extinguished, air and water pollution tracked and accounted for, students and staff moved back in.

What did we learn?  A lot.

First, be familiar with the crisis communications plan for the university and for your area. Did you know there was a phone tree. Yep, you call A, A calls B, B calls see, and so on and so on.  The idea is to share the responsibilities of notification.

Second, have your call list handy.  I didn’t and wasn’t sure who I should call.  Fortunately another participant had her call list and I was able to cheat a little.  That might not be possible during a real emergency.

Push for answers.  We let information flow to us because we didn’t want to bother the first responders. But without that first hand information, we didn’t know what was happening until five, maybe even 10 minutes after things happened.  If we moved too quickly we might post inaccurate information on the web and list serves.  If we moved too slowly, well, you can imagine.

Stay cool.  Things happen fast, even during a simulation.  And pay attention.  Information is coming at you from several directions and it’s easy to overlook key facts, phone numbers, information.

Have a backup.  One of our key guys was sick and couldn’t attend.  We had a backup, but would you?

Think web,  text and radio.  Cell phones won’t always work or may be overwhelmed with traffic during an emergency.  Consider many options to be sure your message is received.

Housing and transportation.  If you’re moved and can’t get to your car or back to your office, can you get home?  Can you get into your home?  Can you start your car.  The university had solutions for most problems, but if you don’t want to depend on others, depend on your own preparations.

Lots more, but my best advice is to review the crisis communications plan for your unit. And know what the business continuity plan calls for.  Make sure your staff knows what to do.

Practice and preparation will make a difference.  Do both.

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1 Dee Shore { 12.10.09 at 6:46 am }

It was a great exercise. I’m still thinking about what to do if we evacuate, get stuck out in the cold in a parking lot, don’t have access to the Web and the cell phones aren’t working! I’d never thought of that before. …

2 Joe Hice { 12.10.09 at 7:19 am }

It does get you thinking. I didn’t carry my emergency contact list with me all the time and when an “emergency” happened, I was not prepared. I think we all learned from the exercise. What do people say, Practice makes perfect. In this case, maybe so.

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