With pandemic fading, emergency managers looking forward

The emergency operations center Iowa State mobilized to manage its COVID-19 response ran full-time for 454 days before closing June 1. 

"At this point, we're getting reacquainted with our own desks after 15 months away from them," emergency manager Clayton Oliver told the Professional and Scientific Council at its June 3 meeting.

So what does the emergency management team do now? Study the past to prepare for the future. Oliver said the university's emergency plans will undergo a "comprehensive overhaul" over the next year to incorporate lessons learned from the pandemic and the derecho last August.

Planning to reduce vulnerability to disasters -- and the simulations and exercises to validate those plans -- can help define responsibilities in advance of an emergency and identify training needs, he said. The goal isn't to anticipate every possibility in detail.

"No emergency plan survives contact with a disaster. In our world, the plan is not a guaranteed solution. It's a framework for response and improvisation. It gives us a start," he said.

Oliver encouraged interested unit and department leaders to contact emergency management to line up training. ISU emergency management offers a 90-minute presentation on personal disaster preparedness and 30- to 60-minute sessions on specific hazards, such as fire safety, travel and severe weather, he said. 

Emergency managers also can help devise or review local emergency plans for units or buildings by holding a table-top exercise or facilitating a "what would you do" discussion, which Oliver said is "like Dungeons and Dragons for disaster."

Council changes hands

New council members and officers officially begin their duties at the start of the fiscal year July 1 but are seated at the June meeting. Sixteen members were either newly elected or appointed to the council for 2021-22, joining 28 returning members.

President Sara Parris, whose position will be filled by president-elect Chris Johnsen, recognized the 14 outgoing council members. Jamie Sass will start her term as president-elect July 1. 

The council will begin the year without any vacancies, but P&S staff who would like to serve as a substitute or be considered for eligible council positions that open up during the next year are encouraged to email the representation committee.