BMCC’s G. Scott Anderson on Emergency Management

September 28, 2007

The following is the Sept. 26 testimony of G. Scott Anderson, Vice President of Administration and Planning at BMCC, to the New York City Council Committee on Higher Education during a hearing on emergency management procedures on college campuses:

Good afternoon Mr. Chairman and Honorable members of the City Council Committee on Higher Education. Borough of Manhattan Community College welcomes this opportunity to speak with you today on emergency management procedures on college campuses. BMCC and CUNY take seriously our collective responsibility to provide all of our citizens in New York City with a safe learning and working environment on our college campuses.

In this age of heightened awareness of the dangers that natural and manmade disasters pose to the health and safety of our respective communities, we have all had to ramp up our emergency planning efforts. It has become critically important that we all expand our universe and awareness of the many threats that exist in the larger community because no institution, no neighborhood, no individual should have to suffer the consequences of a poorly managed emergency. This is particularly true when lessons learned exist from similar situations. It is easy for us to criticize how a college should have handled a particular emergency but it would be unconscionable if we did not incorporate those lessons learned into our own campus planning.

Six years ago on 9/11, BMCC became the first college in America to lose part of its campus through foreign terrorism. In one afternoon, the college lost a 15-story building, 70 classroom and labs when 7 WTC collapsed onto Fiterman Hall. Although we evacuated everyone beforehand safely, BMCC lost nine students and alumni who were working in the World Trade Center at the time. For three weeks, we suspended all school operations while we tried to get the college back into business. During that time we were creating temporary classrooms inside and around the main campus. In addition, we were also home to over 3,000 first responders every day.

BMCC was used by more than eight uniformed service agencies from the City, State and Armed Services. The college made its cafeteria, theatres, Gym and outdoor courtyards available to many brave and dedicated emergency workers. However, there was no script for how all of this was supposed to work. We were very fortunate because our emergency staff and the first responder community forged an outstanding constructive working relationship. We learned several important things from that experience:

1. It is important that college campuses form mutual assistance relationships with neighboring community and first-responder agencies before and emergency arises;

2. An emergency inventory should be made of every campus to assess the physical capacity of the facility to function as an emergency response location or command center;Campuses should insure the proper training and equipping of campus emergency staff;

3. Provision should be made to store food, water, toiletries and clothing for essential staff for a three-day period;

4. Involve the facilities staff in the development of any campus emergency planning effort;

5. Make plans to relocate administrative functions at a remote site;

6. Install critical telecom, network and administrative applications at a remote ‘hot site’;

7. During the emergency, insure the continued Web ‘presence’ of the institution at another location;

8. Insure the frequent and accurate communication of the status of your campus to your faculty, staff and students during the emergency;

9. Make sure your college is fully engaged in meaningful dialogue with the City’s Office of Emergency Management and other appropriate agencies;

10. Participate in higher education’s professional organizational forums related to emergency planning, risk assessment and business continuity issues (e.g., NACUBO, SCUP, URMIA, IACLEA, AACC, etc.)

11. Become engaged immediately in business continuity or recovery efforts, not just emergency response;

12. Pay attention to the mental and emotional health of your faculty, staff and students and especially those emergency workers working throughout the crisis.

These items may seem like common sense, and they are. However, we learned the value of these lessons, first-hand during 9/11 and their importance cannot be stressed enough. Since that time, BMCC continues to be engaged in emergency management activities to better prepare our campus and protect our community.

Our emergency planning will never be exhaustive enough because there will always be new permutations in the kinds of threats that can affect our campuses. What is important however is that each and every college and university develop a culture of campus readiness. No emergency-planning document will ever be ‘comprehensive’ enough. It is critical that we subject our planning protocols to constant review and conduct frequent training exercises, whether full-scale or tabletop. This is not paranoia. This is our responsibility. The health and safety of our students, faculty and staff deserve no less from us.

Thank you for your time, this opportunity to speak with you and for your commitment to the welfare of the citizens of this great city.

For a wide variety of emergency management procedures at BMCC, click here.

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