4 and ½ Tips on Research Recovery with Bill Ravlin
On September 16, 2010, the Wooster campus at Ohio State was struck by a brutal tornado. Left in the wake of the storm was $30 million in damage and Bill Ravlin, the university’s business continuity planner, to lead the recovery efforts.
How does an institution of higher education go about recovering from such a huge loss? In a recent Kuali webinar, Bill Ravlin, now the Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology at Michigan State University, walked through how he recovered every last cent of Wooster’s losses – including the cost of 1,500 downed trees! Read on for best practice tips on research recovery.
1. Create a research recovery framework with questions.
After suffering such a massive loss, the first question you might ask is, “How are we going to do this?!” Asking the right questions can help you and your institution lay the best framework for your recovery efforts.
Good questions are especially important because they will help your institution make a better insurance claim. Institutional insurance is hugely important in a disaster scenario. An institution needs to know what they lost and what they can include in their claim. The Wooster campus hired a forensic accountant to help them make the best insurance claim and ask the right questions. In fact, the institution established the following questions before moving forward.
- Did you suffer a loss? If so, what did you lose? Content, property, revenue, future revenue from current research, continuing expenses?
- Can you prove and quantify what you lost?
- Does your policy cover your losses?
Before a disaster hits, you can use these questions to inform your planning. All you need to do is reword them. For example, you might ask, “What is covered by our current insurance policy?” Or perhaps, “What are three things on campus that we don’t yet know how to quantify?” This exercise will help you prepare for the future.
2. Segment your approach to assess research losses.
Just as it is important to ask the right questions, it is also helpful to segment areas of the university. It is overwhelming to evaluate losses all at once; segment your losses so you can account for everything.
For Wooster, there were two clear camps that needed attention: infrastructure and grants and contracts. Campus facilities, including equipment and land, make up the infrastructure of a higher education institution. Grants and contracts make up the funding for research. Large grants increase university prestige and can also contribute to future sources of commercial revenue.
Wooster’s infrastructure was hit hard in a few places.
The tornado cut a diagonal across campus, hitting a few buildings and destroying the Secrest arboretum. One engineering building was all but demolished. Greenhouse contents were scattered everywhere. Campus was a sore sight for students and the community.
Grants and Contracts
Damages to infrastructure create significant challenges for graduate students and professors. Graduate students spend 2-3 years working on a project and if it is delayed even a few months, a student might lose their opportunity to defend their dissertation. Additionally, professors on the tenure track are actively engaged in research; if a project is disrupted, a professor might transfer to a different university to have a better chance at tenure.
When the tornado came crashing through, it disrupted every research project on campus in one way or another. For example, one individual’s genetically modified tomato plants were damaged in the storm. Months of work was brought to a screeching halt. Another individual was studying an insect that only breeds once per year. That project was nearly abandoned for obvious reasons.
Ravlin, or another Wooster representative, met with each and every grant organization to reevaluate the terms of contracts and gain permission for an extension on various projects. With some luck and hard work, they were able to secure all the money previously promised to the school in grants and didn’t lose one professor.
½. Meet with every grant organization.
A disaster interrupts research. Some projects were delayed months and even years. Make sure you, or a university representative, contacts the grant organization for every grant. You may be surprised at an organization’s generosity if you make the effort to reach out and explain your institution’s situation.
By meeting with and re-evaluating grant terms, the university was able to repair all of the grant contracts in place before the storm. This feat was only possible because Ravlin, or a university representative, met with every grant party to explain what happened and negotiate terms.
3. Inventory the whole campus.
Make sure to check all the nooks and crannies of the institution, or heavily encourage your faculty to do so. Ravlin checked with all department heads to learn about what damages occurred in each area of the university.
A unique loss occurred in Wooster’s chemical freezers. The freezers, which sit at -80 degrees Fahrenheit, housed all kinds of microscopic materials. The tornado caused a power-outage and a natural gas leak, so the university shut off the natural gas, leaving the freezers without power. Thousands of dollars were lost as materials like chemicals, reagents, and DNA slowly thawed. Those materials, which initially took years to acquire, took six months to replace. Ravlin was able to include those research recovery costs in university’s claim.
4. Quantify your research losses creatively.
Finally, take a page from Ravlin’s creativity book as you quantify things you thought impossible. Replacing a building is expensive; but how much does it cost to replace a few hundred trees?
To quantify the cost of about 1,500 downed trees, Ravlin used a tool called ITree, which uses both tree species and age to determine cost. This specific loss totaled around $1.5 million, some of which was recovered through insurance. If Ravlin hadn’t quantified the loss of the trees, it would have taken decades to plant and grow new ones.
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