Planning for an Asteroid amid Other Campus Disruptions

By George Watt July 13, 2020 May 11th, 2021 Blog Post

One would assume every college campus in America has a thorough and current response plan for a shooter on campus. And it is likely every campus along the East Coast has a hurricane disaster plan, and California campuses have earthquake plans, to include all the steps and assignments for post disaster recovery. Yet how many administrations had discussed—much less planned for—a global pandemic or the many challenges and potential disruptors the recent COVID-19 crisis has thrust upon us? There is a necessary rigor in considering any and all events—local, regional, national, and even global—that could create a temporary or a long-term disruption to campus operations (to include revenue loss and the safety of students, faculty, and staff). That rigor begins with a basic risk assessment exercise.

The initial assessment starts with a brainstorming exercise among cabinet members and other campus leaders (to include public safety, athletics, and auxiliary services/facilities management). A “two-by-two” matrix with one axis indicating “Impact of Event” against another axis indicating “Probability of Event” using a continuum of “low” to “high” on each is the easiest way to get started. Although it may sound simple, the challenge is to fully apply everyone’s imagination to come up with all possible events while then testing the probability of each and reaching consensus. Done correctly, the first result would create a populated upper right-hand matrix of “highest-impact/highest-probability” events to focus on initially and to plan for. This is the starting point for developing a risk-evaluation and mitigation plan for each event/incident (and to also cascade each high-impact/high-probability event into the multiple areas of impact).

The more difficult and more important work follows. Every incident in that high-impact/high-probability quadrant requires a discrete plan—a means of testing the plan and acting on the test results [to include scenario planning and tabletop exercises] and the discipline to revisit all of the plans often, modifying them as more information is available to include the lessons learned from your scenario drills. While doing this, you will also be adding more disruptors to the matrix. If this has the sense of a “plan-do-check-act” methodology, it is because that is exactly what it is. Applying PDCA rigor assures a continuous evaluation and improvement loop while also assuring plans are in place for the most likely and most damaging events and outcomes.

In fact, now is a good time for campus leaders to come together to begin identifying and capturing all the learnings of the past several months. Consider the many areas of impact the global pandemic event has made to your campus: enrollment, budget, facilities, staffing, restructuring, business continuity, constituency management, and crisis communications. There is an old adage: “Never waste a good crisis.” To not pause and learn from this current event would be a great loss to your team and your successors.

As for that asteroid, the impact would certainly be catastrophic to your campus (and all of Earth for that matter). Although the probability seems low, scientists believe such a collision occurs every 50 to 60 million years. If you are counting, the last one killed the dinosaurs approximately 66 million years ago. Maybe you should add it to your list after all!

George P. Watt, Jr., is an AGB senior fellow and senior consultant.  

Learn more about risk assessment/risk mitigation/crisis management and recovery and reach AGB Consulting by email any time.

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