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Picking up the pieces
Getting back to business after a natural disaster will be crucial to both the university and its community, so good preparation is a must.

| 23 July 2003


It’s been three days since the campus was rocked by a 6.5-magnitude Hayward Fault earthquake. The four students and one staff person killed as a result have been identified, and the 51 injured hospitalized. Water, gas, and electricity have largely been restored. Fifty-one buildings have been identified as uninhabitable, and another 50 are deemed questionable.

With these immediate concerns addressed, what does the campus do now to get back into the business of teaching students?

Answering this complex question was the point of last month’s “Quake 2003,” a half-day simulation exercise in which campus emergency officials gathered to practice restoring the university’s most important operations in the aftermath of a disaster. The exercise included some 350 representatives from seven core-service units, including Capital Projects, Physical Plant–Campus Services, UCPD, Environment, Heath, & Safety, Information Systems & Technology, Residential and Student Service Programs, and University Health Services.

From the campus’s main Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in the basement of Barrows Hall, and other strategic locations, the group — guided by UC Berkeley’s recently developed Business Resumption Plan — pretended to deal with issues that might affect the campus 72 hours after a major earthquake.

Using a pre-written script, a designated team of participants made phone calls throughout the exercise to the EOC about specific issues and incidents, such as providing shelter for those left homeless, getting phone and computer systems back online, and cleaning up toxic spills.

“In past exercises, we’ve concentrated on the immediate response to a natural disaster, like search-and-rescue and first aid operations,” says Tom Klatt, director of emergency planning and communications. “This year, the focus was on efforts to get the campus up and running in the days following a crisis.”

And it’s crucial to do this as rapidly as possible, in order to limit the negative impact on faculty, staff, students, and campus neighbors, he says.

“The existence of this institution is so important to our livelihoods, so we need to make sure it’s still functioning after a calamity,” says Klatt. “If things drag on beyond the 72-hour window, then it begins to affect people’s jobs, academic research, and our student’s educational progress. And as one of the biggest employers in the East Bay, a business interruption at the university would jolt the surrounding community as well.”

Speed is also of the essence when it comes to assessing and calculating damage to the campus. Requests for clean-up and repair funds from governmental disaster agencies, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), must be made quickly so rebuilding efforts can begin.

Klatt and others say the exercise was successful because it gave team members a chance to put the campus’s resumption plan into action and analyze which protocols succeeded and which need more work.

“We still have a ways to go in perfecting this system, but we’re way ahead of most other institutions like ours,” says Klatt. “Several universities have asked us to send them copies of our plan when it gets finalized.”

What can you do to prepare?
While the “Quake 2003” exercise focused on the post-disaster actions of core-service units, individual departments should also devise their own plans for recovery, says David Mann, coordinator of the campus’s newly created Office of Business Resumption.

“Now that we’ve gotten some things in order at the campuswide level, it’s time to concentrate on what individual offices are doing to prepare,” he says. “Senior managers should make this a priority for the departments they oversee.”

The first step toward developing a plan is determining what functions are most important to deliver, says Mann. For academic departments, this might be contacting students and formulating an abbreviated class schedule. For an administrative office, it may include the generation of crucial data or the acquisition of essential goods.

“What folks have to understand is that after a significant disaster, it’s not possible to get back to business as usual. Things can’t be done they way they were before,” Mann explains. “This means departments have to consider their stakeholders, analyze their responsibilities, and make decisions about what they can and cannot do.”

Once priorities are established, the next step is figuring out what levels of staffing, technology, and physical space are required to carry these out, says Mann. Strategies should be created to determine which staff are essential and available for recovery; obtain alternative computer equipment and work space if an office is rendered unusable; and restore critical computer databases, applications, and programs.

There are many other issues to consider when developing business resumption plans, says Mann, and he is available to assist departments in doing this. For additional information about this service, visit obr.berkeley.edu or contact Mann at dmann@uclink.berkeley.edu or 642-7959.