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Tornado Recovery Answers with Bill Ravlin

May 16, 2019

How much does a continuity plan really help with recovery? Should a professor insure their own work, or does the university’s insurance cover it? Does insurance cover the lost opportunity to enroll more students?

Find answers to these questions and more from Bill Ravlin, Professor and Chair of the Department of Entomology at Michigan State University. Ravlin has over 35 years of experience in research and academia, including experience recovering from a tornado that hit the Wooster campus of Ohio State when he worked there. In this post, Bill Ravlin shares answers to hard questions that can help you proactively prepare your campus for any incident.

1. Did you have a Business Continuity Plan in place before the incident? If so, did it help?

In the true sense of BCP, I would say no. But we did have an emergency plan in place that we had done in the point of having table top exercises. That helped us all the way from the instance of the event and working with first responders. But from the standpoint of the claim and bcp, I’ll say it was a mixed bag. In our university setting, each individual faculty member runs fairly independent program. As you can imagine, some faculty members have every last item inventoried and logged, to faculty members who aren’t sure what is where. The more that you are able to document and quantify early on, the better off you are going to be, including what it takes to generate DNA. We took each type of DNA and estimated the number of man hours and resources it would take to regenerate. All of that data went into our claim, but the faculty had to produce it first.

“There’s no doubt that (we’re) coming back better, because we took the attitude and time to look toward future.”
- Bill Ravlin

2. How often do you review your Business Continuity Plans (BCP) plans and what kind of review or approval process do you use?

This will vary with the institution and probably each department. We annually review essential personnel. Developing an actual BCP will often be difficult because of the distributed nature of higher ed research programs. Essentially each faculty member runs his/her own “business” and each “business” has different directions, different sources of revenue, and different timing of programs and events

3. Do you have Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in place for an orderly lab shutdown (prior to planned incident)?

In most universities, departments and labs have a fair amount of autonomy. Some labs are quite good about maintaining an inventory of chemicals, biological materials (e.g., DNA), and equipment. Other labs not as much. The idea of an SOP is excellent, but hard to implement.

4. Did you try to evaluate the effects on programs/research that were not directly impacted?

This would be a great study. The demands of getting to the “new normal” and everyday operations precludes spending time here. However, if insurance companies had a model to cover these kinds of costs then there would be a real incentive.

5. Do you have Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with vendors to minimize disruption before replacement tools can be acquired?

Most universities have regular vendors unless they fall off the list for whatever reason. Also, you may have to obtain bids from more than one vendor if high priced equipment or facilities are involved.

6. Have you ever heard of professors directly purchasing insurance for their research projects or does insurance always come from the institution?

I’ve never heard of this occurring. The university technically owns the research and carries the insurance. For the Ohio State situation, OSU had a $1B insurance policy with $1M deductible. So, the university and each researcher is “self insured” until they’ve exceeded the deductible.

7. Assuming future years enrollment numbers were hurt for your Wooster campus, does insurance provide compensation for that lost revenue?

This is a good question for the insurance folks. My guess is this is possible if you can document the lost based on solid numbers from recent years. There might even be some language in the policy to cover enrollment losses. There should be some good documentation on this issue as a result of Katrina and Louisiana institutions.

8. Do grants ever require that BCP plans or insurance are in place before being awarded?

Not to my knowledge.

9. What is the research and damage price tag (without the hard costs of equipment and facility damage) you put on this tornado event?

The settlement was somewhere around $30M. This covered the loss of facilities and contents. We were not able to document lost time, data, or the opportunity cost of lost biological materials. For example, a professor may have been planning to submit a grant proposal to a federal agency with some novel biological material (e.g., DNA). A catastrophic event could steal time from writing the proposal and/or accessing the material. There is no guarantee that a given proposal will be funded, so there is no means to estimate the loss.

To learn more about the tornado event and subsequent recovery, watch the full webinar. To learn more about Kuali ready, an out-of-the-box business continuity planning tool, visit

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