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University details contingency plans

2 March 2014 By Cody Boteler, Assistant News Editor No Comments

Should Towson University be affected by a crisis – bad weather, a power outage or a fire– a number of contingency plans are in place to ensure the safety of University community members.

The Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP), first published in May 2011 according to Executive Administrative Assistant of the Office of Public Safety Jean West, was written and designed to be a broad, comprehensive guide for the University to respond to emergencies.

“It goes from something major to something minor,” Chief of Police Bernard Gerst said.

Every administrative department has its own version of the plan, outlying essential personnel and functions. The plans are not public information.

“First concerns are to ensure that all campus residents are safe and that all buildings are secure,” Vice President for Administration and Finance and Chief Financial Officer Joe Oster said. “Life and safety (shelter and feeding for residents) and security on the campus are the primary agendas.”

University functions are prioritized according to the Incident Command System. Following preserving life and safety is stabilizing the incident, preserving property and the environment and finally restoring normal operations.

The COOP is broken into two pieces: one for if specific departments are shut down and one for if the whole University is closed.

Recently, the Administration Building lost power, but the rest of the campus was operational. Essential personnel were moved to Cook Library to work.

On the other hand, when an incident involves the whole campus, the plans are much more comprehensive. When there is snow on campus, for example, a major priority is getting resident students to dining halls. According to Gerst, Chartwells keeps about seven days worth of food on campus in case deliveries cannot be completed.

In order to keep employees on campus, departments reserve space at The Marriott for their staff. This includes dining hall staff.

“That way they know staff will be here on campus,” Gerst said.

The University is billed for housing staff at The Marriott, but that is accounted for in the budget.

Another major concern is assuring that residence halls do not lose electricity.

“We have redundant backup plans for [residence halls losing power],” Gerst said. Burdick Hall can also be stocked with cots to house students in the event a residence hall entirely loses electricity. In the past, Towson University has reached out to the Baltimore County Police Department and offered them cots in Burdick Hall during severe weather events.

Towson University students have nevver had to be housed in Burdick Hall.

According to Oster, in the past Towson University has reached out to the Baltimore County Police Department and offered them cots in Burdick Hall during severe weather events.

Towson University could also take advantage of a Memorandum of Understanding that it is a part of with other regional colleges and universities in the region. The deal, first brokered at Towson University in February 2008, was “written very broadly and generally” to allow for different situations and ranges from borrowing space and equipment to borrowing employees, according to Gerst.

“Hypothetically, I could call up another university [in the memorandum] and say ‘hey, I need housing for 5,000 students,’” Gerst said.

Towson University has not had to take advantage of the memorandum.

“It’s a nice insurance policy to know you have it,” Gerst said.

Towson’s COOP has been approved by the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and other universities have modeled their plan off of Towson’s, according to Gerst.

Towson University updates the COOP every year. The updates do not typically include major overhauls to the plans themselves, but rather things like new phone numbers and office locations.

When Towers A and B were evacuated, Burdick could have been prepped quickly to house students. But, according to Gerst, they “never pulled the trigger” because the situation was declared not to be an emergency.

“It turned out it was a funny smell,” he said.

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