Federal Guidance for Campus Safety and Emergency Management

Many folks in higher education and K12 schools know that emergency management and preparedness is important to their institutions and the safety of their students, but they are not sure where to start.  Getting started with emergency planning can seem overwhelming. Luckily, help is available.

Some of that help comes in the form of consultants and external reviewers, however, that can become costly.  There are several free resources for schools, colleges, and universities.  Below I have provided a listing of ones I think are good.  But first, I will share the one that is the free, new, and the most helpful.

The federal government, through the U.S. Department of Education Office of Safe and Healthy Students, has created Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools Technical Assistance Center (REMS) which is available at http://rems.ed.gov   On their website, they describe what they do as:

We support schools, school districts, and institutions of higher education (IHEs), with their community partners, in the development of high-quality emergency operations plans (EOPs) and comprehensive emergency management planning efforts. Established in October 2004 and administered by the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) Office of Safe and Healthy Students (OSHS), the REMS TA Center provides a hub of information, resources, training, and services in the field of school and higher ed emergency operations planning. The REMS TA Center does not endorse products, services, or service providers. Additionally, the REMS TA Center does not provide certificates other than certificates of attendance.

Once on their website, there are options for different types of institutions.  It is relatively easy to navigate and there are a lot of resources.    

There is older guidance that is still good such as Key Personnel and NIMS Training for Schools and Higher Education Institutions (U.S. Department of Education, Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2008), but this newer material is more useful for developing fuller emergency operations plans.  

According to the REMS guidance, the following principles are key to developing a comprehensive higher education emergency operations plan that addresses a range of threats and hazards:

  • Planning must be supported by the institution’s senior leadership.
  • Planning uses assessment to customize plans to the individual institution.
  • Planning considers all threats and hazards.
  • Planning provides for the access and functional needs of the whole institutional community.
  • Planning considers all settings and all times.
  • Planning considers the individual preparedness of students, faculty, and staff.
  • Planning meets the requirements of all applicable laws.
  • Creating and revising a model emergency operations plan is done by following a collaborative process.

The particular steps that the new guidance gives are laid out sequentially and are easy to follow:

Step 1 – Form a Collaborative Planning Team

  • Identify core planning team
  • Form a common framework
  • Determine and assign roles and responsibilities
  • Determine a regular schedule of meetings

Step 2 – Understand the Situation

  • Identify threats and hazards
  • Assess risk
  • Prioritize threats and hazards

Step 3 – Determine Goals and Objectives

  • Develop goals
  • Develop objectives

Step 4 – Plan Development

  • Identify course of action


Step 5 – Plan Preparation, Review, and Approval

  • Format the plan
  • Write the plan
  • Approve and share the plan


Step 6 – Plan Implementation and Maintenance

  • Train stakeholders
  • Exercise the plan
  • Review, revise, and maintain the plan

You do not need to be an expert in campus safety and emergency management to plan effectively.  All you need is a passion for keeping your campus and students safe and follow the steps outlined for you. The final goal is the written and tested emergency operations plan, but the process of planning itself has a lot of value and on its own should improve campus safety.  

Below are some additional resources that higher education institutions and leaders could use to learn more:

http://rems.ed.gov: U.S. Department of Education resources for emergency management in schools
http://naspa.org: Contains a compilation of good resources on general and higher education-specific emergency management
http://training.fema.gov/EMI: Emergency Management Institute on-campus and remote trainings
http://training.fema.gov/IS: Federal Emergency Management Agency website; contains independent study trainings
http://www.redcross.org: Various training including emergency shelter certifications
http://www.iaem.com/committees/UCC: IAEM-USA Universities & Colleges Caucus

Please be in touch if you have any comments, questions, or if you need any help with campus, departmental, or personal preparedness.  

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