Steps for Creating a Successful Contingency Plan
Contingency plans are intended to provide universities and campuses with a safety net in the event of an unexpected problem, but the plans themselves need to be carefully thought out. Owners should engage a team with a deep knowledge base who can accurately anticipate the most likely failures in any given building or system and craft an effective response to address those failures.
Steps to a successful emergency contingency plan:
Step 1: Consider a variety of failure modes and goals.
The number of possible failure models is nearly infinite. To create the most powerful and individualized contingency plan, campuses will need to consider what factors are unique to their sites and which would have the largest impact on students, staff and administrators if they were to occur.
For DU, aging underground distribution piping was already beginning to fail, making this failure mode a very likely possibility to consider. Location is also an important consideration. In areas like Denver, a power outage could lead to freezing pipes — which could lead to further damage, legitimate safety concerns and likely evacuation of occupants.
Other facilities may be dependent on water. In dormitories, central plant facilities and other buildings where a water outage would shut down operations, campus personnel may want to focus on a means to quickly restore water services.
For each building, university staff and engineering teams need to assess the local equipment in use, the utility distribution lines, the impact of a power outage and the building function to identify and customize the most probable — and most impactful — system failures before determining where to devote time and resources
Step 2: Examine the building site.
Once the most critical failure modes have been identified, building site examinations need to be done to determine what should be included in a contingency plan. To improve efficiency, team members should include individuals familiar with the building’s layout and systems. The team will need to consider every relevant aspect and document each one thoroughly to reduce the need to return for further examinations.
A thorough building site examination should include determination of tie points, locations where rental equipment can be installed, existing valves, pumping restrictions and generator connection points. The team also needs to consider the pathway, size, length and ratings of any hoses or equipment necessary to tie in new or temporary pieces of equipment
Step 3: Organize the data
Before creating the contingency plan, it is essential to understand what information key staff will need in the event of an emergency, and then organize the tool accordingly.
At DU, for example, employees who had handled similar events in the past could confirm what information they would need most during the event.
Such feedback would allow the most critical pieces of information to be highlighted and presented in a way that the most crucial data would be easy to access within the plan. Creating a database structure that is expandable and easy to use also allows the tool to be a living document that can be expanded or modified over time as circumstances change.
The presentation and appearance should also be consistent between buildings so that there is a universal format staff members will be familiar with regardless of the building they enter
The information in the plan must be in a simple and consistent format that minimizes the chance of miscommunication when stress is high during emergencies. Staff working to fix the problem must be on the same page with each other, with customers to manage expectations, with leadership for communicating the problem, and with outside vendors to provide the correct equipment and materials needed to fix the problem.
Step 4: Verify with campus staff
Once the preliminary document has been prepared, it’s important to go back through the buildings with campus staff to walk each location and perform a quality review of the contingency plans. This sees that staffers understand the process, provides fertile opportunity for suggested improvements, and allows for minor modifications or changes to be made prior to finalizing the documents. Working closely with staff allows for the validation of the plan. Success can be achieved when the entire team takes responsibility to verify that the information is correct and accurate.
Long term, it is also essential that the owner designate a point person or someone to champion, maintain and update the plan as new buildings are added or systems are updated. Training personnel on the tools developed allows the contingency plan to be expanded by campus staff whenever necessary.
Step 5: Put the plan into practice.
The final step is implementing the emergency contingency plan and adapting future projects to accommodate any insights or best practices identified during the development process.
In the DU example, the university plans to budget improvements to existing facilities and install the necessary electrical, heating and cooling connections in easy-to-access locations. Following such upgrades, the contingency plan document must be updated to reflect the physical updates.
DU continues to add buildings and systems to the plan as time allows. The process also helped officials identify existing shortcomings within buildings that would make it challenging to connect the necessary hoses or equipment to a building in the event of an emergency. To address these shortfalls, they plan to rewrite their design standards to extend emergency piping taps out to exterior walls of new buildings so that it will be easier to connect to temporary equipment. A small investment has also been set aside to make minor building piping and electrical modifications to make the process easier if an emergency occurs.
DU and other campuses are better prepared for future challenges by proactively coordinating with rental companies to establish rental agreements and predetermined equipment sizes. Tabletop exercises and actual simulated dry runs further streamline the process. All of these steps will only further reduce the timeline to a full recovery and will enable DU and other schools to react more efficiently in the years ahead.