Executive director and colleagues working to make University better prepared and more resilient in face of emergencies.
The last 11 months have been interesting for the Office of Emergency Management at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). That is in part because they are the first 11 months of the office.
Jonathan Bratt, MS, became the University’s first executive director of emergency management in May 2018. He quickly assembled a team of three that now includes Bernadette Taylor, MA, and Hayley Markman, MPA.
“When I did my round-robin of meeting everyone, one of the deans said his challenge to me was to build a nationally recognized university-based emergency management program. I took that challenge very seriously,” says Bratt, who came to UMB from the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems. “In fact, I’ve been using the national standards as the premise to identify the requirements, resources, and needs for my team to develop protocols for what our future capabilities should look like.”
Bratt admits in addition to building an Office of Emergency Management and monitoring severe weather closings his early efforts have included “grabbing the low-hanging fruit” — things that can be improved quickly, “gaps we can bridge, and build from there.”
Emergency management, which he defines as the process of creating an organizational framework that reduces vulnerability to hazards and copes with disasters, wasn’t totally foreign to UMB before Bratt’s arrival. He said Steven Deck, DM, MBA, director, UMB Department of Environmental Health and Safety, and Eric Oddo, MPA, of the Carey School of Law’s Center for Health and Homeland Security, built continuity of operations plans for the UMB schools in 2017 and have been huge assets to Bratt and his team.
Bratt said many institutions of higher education don’t have an emergency management program and it likely wouldn’t have come to UMB if Dawn Rhodes, MBA, chief business and finance officer and vice president, hadn’t had one at her previous job at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).
“She saw what an emergency management program had done for IUPUI and said we need one here — so here we are,” Bratt says with a smile. Higher education isn’t alone in being slow to grasp the importance of emergency management. “It’s a growing and relatively new profession,” Bratt says. “In the last decade, things have changed dramatically in how we conduct business in emergency management.”
Such support from across UMB has been overwhelming — even a little scary. “When many stakeholders have said, ‘Thank goodness you’re here,’ it was a vote of confidence. But at the same time I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! What did I get myself into?’ ” Bratt says with a laugh. “But I think everybody recognizes the need and wants the University to be better prepared and more resilient.”
UMB is not working alone in the pursuit of preparation and resiliency. Emphasizing the importance of partnerships, Bratt has reached out to state and city emergency management agencies, the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), the city’s police and fire departments, and more, to find ways to collaborate. “We want to understand shared gaps in capabilities, identify institutional strengths, and develop a program that accounts for the larger community’s ability to prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters. To that end, we are sharing information with our partners, conducting joint training and exercises, and building capabilities to address the needs in the community,” Bratt says.
When Markman became UMB’s first Continuity of Operations Program (COOP) manager, one of her first priorities was to meet with her counterpart at UMCP, who also had just started. “We can leverage each other’s knowledge, experience, and expertise and both of us will be more efficient and timely,” Bratt says. “So, when College Park has an emergency or needs our support, we can help them and the same is true the other way around. The priority is collaboration, resource sharing, and capability development.”
Because as he said at the September Q&A with Police Chief Alice Cary, MS, “the worst time to exchange your business card is at the scene of an incident. You should be doing that beforehand.”
A former paramedic who still serves as deputy team commander on a federal medical disaster response team, Bratt says he is proud of the many UMB initiatives that have taken shape since his arrival.
Stop the Bleed program. The Office of Emergency Management has partnered with the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center to deliver training to University members and neighbors on how to treat bleeding as a result of a mass shooting. Bratt points out this program was part of the Hartford Consensus Report that grew out of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. The statewide training initiative is being championed by Habeeba Park, MD, and her team at Shock Trauma. In addition to the training, the University will be installing bleeding control kits around campus, red bags that contain bandages, tourniquets, and more.
Internal door locks in classrooms and large meeting spaces. Another part of the Hartford Consensus Report recommends the installation of devices that allow individuals to secure rooms during an active shooter situation but also gives access to law enforcement and those authorized to open that door. The Office of Emergency Management is working with Facilities Management, the UMB Police Department, the Fire Marshal’s Office, and each school to identify vulnerable areas and install access control devices.
Major upgrade to our mass notification system. This upgrade to UMB Alerts is being rolled out this summer. The upgrade will provide officials the added ability to better target messages as well as empower individuals to self-subscribe for alerts regarding their UMB building, school, and other areas. These enhancements will streamline communications, enable first responders to more rapidly send messages, and reduce alarm fatigue from recipients receiving alerts too frequently.
International emergencies workshop. UMB has a large contingent of faculty, staff, and students who are overseas. The Office of Emergency Management is working through risk assessments and procedures for how the University deals with emergencies that involve its constituents overseas. A June workshop will start the discussion, Bratt says, with participants representing a longitudinal cross-section of the campus as well as input from the UMB Center for Global Education Initiatives.
Revitalizing Continuity of Operations. In addition to Markman as the first COOP manager, the Office of Emergency Management will lay the foundation to ensure mission-critical departments and functions have viable strategies for overcoming interruptions to operations. The program will create a comprehensive approach for streamlining coordination, enhancing communication, and improving interdepartmental collaboration during an emergency.
In closing, Bratt says he has gained a new respect for UMB and its people in his first 11 months.
“This institution is unique in higher education in that our mission extends beyond that of a traditional university. We serve the community in a variety of important ways including education, critical infrastructure, the provision of health care, support to the University of Maryland Medical Center, and countless other programs that impact the daily lives of those living in Maryland and around the world,” he says. “It makes the job a lot more complex, but it also makes it a lot more interesting and fulfilling. With the great team we have built, we are looking forward to the challenge.”