No one does a happy dance when they’re asked to create an elaborate plan for something that might not, or will likely not, happen in the near future. And when people are not willing to support a project, they’ll trot out a litany of excuses ranging from clever to ridiculous. But the thing to keep in mind is that every institution is vulnerable to a variety of natural or man-made disasters, disruptions, and calamities.
According to FEMA, disasters have affected university and college campuses with disturbing frequency, sometimes causing death and injury, but always imposing monetary losses and disruption of the institution’s higher education, research, and public service. Continuity planning helps you continue or quickly resume your essential functions when faced with adverse events. Don’t let these bad excuses keep you from being prepared.
You probably didn’t budget for handling a flu pandemic, faculty strike, IT security breach, or natural disaster, either. Planning for continuity of operations helps develop a culture of preparedness, which reduces the cost of potential adverse events. The small investment now can save countless dollars down the road. Every department can be touched by an adverse event.
In June 2001, Tropical Storm Allison inundated the Houston Area and its universities and colleges with 10 to 24 inches of rain. The total losses are estimated to be $745 million. The University of Texas at Houston Medical School Building had 22 feet of water in it, causing the hospital to close for the first time in its history and seriously disrupting its research efforts. Damage to the Medical School has been estimated at more than $205 million.
On maps of natural and nuclear hazards, the only state in the Union that is entirely free of floods, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes is Michigan. And even Michigan has four nuclear reactors attached to the foot of the state like toes. And those are just potential disasters that are mappable. You can’t map a labor strike, health epidemic, or IT security breach.
A big part of continuity planning is risk identification and emergency management. That means taking a hard look at possibilities and planning for adverse outcomes. It also means addressing some hard questions. How would a closure affect your revenues? How quickly can you get financial assistance? Where will you conduct classes if facilities are condemned?
Actually, business interruption insurance only covers the cost of dealing with the interruption—it doesn’t solve your problems for you. While you might lose revenue from sporting events or concessionaires, insurance will cover lost income and the costs of business continuity. What it won’t cover are the individual costs and losses that students might suffer. Any disaster that occurs will affect students deeply, while the institution continues to collect revenue from tuition.
“Unfortunately, students are the true victims of disaster. Universities will be rebuilt and recover in due time. However, it may take more time and adjustments than currently recognized for students who are affected by disaster (natural or man-made) to recover,” according to Charles Coleman.
Universities and colleges have an obligation to provide the services they have received funds to support—and more, in the case of a disaster. Business interruption coverage will cover the cost of implementing, leasing or moving offices, IT infrastructure, and classrooms. Property insurance will (eventually) cover the cost of repairing and rebuilding structures. But does your institution have a plan in place and coverage for the additional costs of student medical attention, counseling, alternative housing, and lost or damaged personal possessions?
Having a continuity plan in place may even save you money on insurance, and potentially legal fees. (It’s also attractive to accreditors seeking evidence of your commitment to student completion and success!) If your institution does not have a plan in place when other universities do, you could be held legally liable by students and their parents.
If you are not getting support in the way of completed plans from your departments, then the institutional commitment to the project might not be clear to all stakeholders. There will always be a few people who will drag their heels because they don’t see the value in a project. Continuity planners also frequently find they’re competing for attention with other high-priority initiatives.
There are three things you can and should do to ensure that all departments comply. First, make it clear throughout the chain of command that this is an imperative and a priority and that everyone is expected to participate. Second, set a deadline. In fact, a series of deadlines would be ideal—first draft, review, and final draft. Third, publish your intentions to the student body and your community. This will hold the institution accountable in the public eye for adhering to its promises and deadlines. It will also build a bit of a fire under the laggards’ desks as they won’t want to be the last one to submit when the whole world is watching.
Online instruction can be a vital part of a well-designed continuity plan. However, online instruction takes time and resources to serve as a successful alternative to classroom instruction. Is every department and instructor familiar with and experienced at teaching online? Probably not. Do you have the necessary infrastructure in place? Probably not.
The Northridge earthquake, which occurred in January 1994, damaged three universities in the Los Angeles area. California State University, Northridge suffered the most: nearly all of its buildings were damaged and the university was forced to close for one month. It was able to reopen to its 30,000 students with 450 temporary trailers serving as the only classrooms. Damages were estimated at $380 million.
Where are you going to house students if you need to move them off campus? How are you going to reach them? How are you going to conduct classes? How will exams be conducted? Where will your labs and research centers go? A continuity plan should address all these contingencies.
Your Business Management students might disagree! According to the Department of Education, public colleges collected $62.6 billion dollars in undergraduate tuition in 2012. In return for that tuition, students expect education and a lot of services.
While some in academia may feel that education is too special to be run like a crass business enterprise and may enjoy a lively debate as to whether scholastic existence is a form of higher thought instead, try shutting down the entire campus. Your purists may quickly learn that, philosophical debates aside, it’s very difficult to engage in intellectual theory when bricks are falling, books are floating past and students are running for their lives.
In fact, a good continuity of operations plan is there to protect and ensure both an institution’s business interests and the serene atmosphere that contributes to higher learning and thoughtful engagement. Risks to your business are risks to your mission.
When you’re ready to commit to protecting your mission, we’d love to show you how Kuali Ready simplifies continuity planning.