Anatomy of an emergency

Of all the dangers that could strike Yale, humans are the most likely and the most perilous.

Yale’s 35-page University Emergency Operations Plan, which was online and accessible to anyone with a Yale NetID until last Tuesday, contains summaries of the way the University would respond to any serious threat, man-made or otherwise. The plan details the various risks that the University could face, including shooters, explosives and tornadoes, and lists the administrators and other officials who Yale would call upon to handle different crises.

The document begins with a 2009 Hazard and Vulnerability Assessment conducted by Director of Emergency Management Maria Bouffard and other members of the Emergency Operations Team to determine potential hazards that the University faced.

“The greatest threats to campus are: hurricanes and blizzards; electrical failure affecting essential operations and lasting more than two hours; a mass casualty incident during a VIP visit; and an explosive device at any one, or more, of the Yale University facilities,” the study concluded. “Human-caused disasters pose the greatest threat to the University.”

The plan divides emergencies into three categories: natural hazards like hurricanes, floods, and ice storms, human-caused events like terrorist attacks, and technologically-caused events like central computing infrastructure failures.

Of the potential disasters that could strike Yale, human-caused incidents were determined to have a 67 percent probability, and carry a severity score of 0.57 out of 1. Both figures were higher than any other potential risk. These ratings are determined by current studies and historical data about the frequency and relative effect of various disasters, comparatively, the probability of a natural disaster was determined to be 46 percent with a severity of 0.35.

If an emergency strikes the University, the administration’s primary missions will be to protect lives and critical infrastructure and facilities, and to resume normal activities as soon as possible. Additionally, the plan warns that a major disaster at Yale could “affect research collaborations around the world, and set back new discoveries.”

The News told Deputy Secretary for the University Martha Highsmith, who oversees Emergency Operations, that potentially sensitive information on the Emergency Management website was widely accessible on Monday afternoon. Highsmith told the News that at least some of the documents were intentionally available to every member of the community so they could be aware of the University’s level of preparation, but the link to the plans was removed from the site Tuesday.

It is not necessarily out of the ordinary that Yale’s Emergency Plan, which establishes and outlines the functions of the various emergency responses, was online for the entire community to see.

“I’ve seen many institutions where much of what you refer to … is available to the campus community in general,” Dolores Stafford, the president and CEO of D. Stafford and Associates, a consulting firm specializing in campus safety and security, said after the News showed her a summary of the Emergency Operations Plan. “In my initial assessment, it seems as though the emergency operations plans are very thorough, but I will assume that the administration will probably be reviewing what should be accessible to whom and how it is stored and made accessible to those who need the information.”

The plan outlines the hierarchy of authority in crisis situations. Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer is in charge of the general coordination of all emergency responses. Highsmith and Associate Secretary and Director of International Affairs Donald Filer are designated as her second- and third-in-command respectively.

Although these three officials will head the emergency response, the coordinating team will differ depending on the emergency.

Yale also has an Emergency Operations Team — drawn from many areas of the Yale community including transportation and the Yale Police — that helped draft the plan. In an emergency, this team would not manage on-the-ground squads like police and firemen, but rather would coordinate the University’s response, allocating funds between departments and communicating with external agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

In a lesser emergency the University will assemble an Incident Management Team, which could include members of the Emergency Operations Team, and will have similar responsibilities but less authority.

Secondary to the lives of individuals on campus, the plan is designed to protect two modern co-generation power plants, more than a dozen large dining halls, and various shops and warehouse operations owned by the University. All told, the campus covers 342 acres with 439 buildings totaling over 16.2 million square feet.

In addition to the description of basic operations, the plan contains cell and work numbers for Highsmith, Filer, Bouffard and others.

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