Colleges and universities are required to develop and publish emergency response and evacuation procedures.  Is Ebola the sort of “emergency” legislators and regulators had in mind and, if so, how do you plan for it?

The Higher Education Opportunity Act requires schools to have systems in place to

  • Immediately notify the campus community of a confirmed “significant emergency or dangerous situation involving immediate threat to the health or safety of students or staff occurring on the campus …”;
  • Publicize emergency response and evacuation procedures; and
  • Annually test emergency response and evacuation procedures.

Is Ebola a “significant emergency or dangerous situation involving immediate threat to health or safety”?

Though the U.S. Department of Education’s Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans for Institutions of Higher Education doesn’t mention Ebola, it does name pandemic influenza in a list of types of emergencies for which schools should prepare.  Given the buzz about Ebola’s severity and (hopefully remote) pandemic potential, we suggest that it makes that list too.

So, Ebola’s an “emergency.”  What should you consider when preparing for it? 

Ebola-specific official guidance for higher education is limited.  (We do have this from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)).  Beyond following that guidance, there is no one-size-fits-all template for an Ebola preparedness plan.

As you examine your campus needs – including existing emergency planning and preparedness resources that can fill them – consider these issues:

  • Team.  Does your campus need an Ebola response team to facilitate communication across campus? Who should be involved:  administration, human resources, student services, study abroad, academic affairs, health services, disability services, diversity offices, communications, information technology, and campus security?  Should you include anyone from the outside – e.g., government representatives or infectious disease specialists?
  • Reporting. Have you identified mechanisms for immediately reporting Ebola risk or infection to appropriate health officials?
  • Communications.  Do you have a detailed plan for “immediately notifying the campus community” as needed?  Who will lead communications and speak to the public, government, and press?
  • Policies. Do your travel, hygiene, medical screening, security, privacy, and healthcare policies take Ebola response best practices into consideration?
  • Workplace safety.  Do your plans include preparation for providing a workplace free from hazards likely to cause serious physical harm in the event of an Ebola outbreak?
  • Protocol training and implementation.  Is your healthcare and security staff trained on and following appropriate protocols?  Is required blood-borne pathogen training up to date?
  • First responders.  Have you developed relationships with relevant first responders (police, hospitals, the CDC, local health authorities, community-based social and psychological support organizations) to facilitate response coordination?
  • Quarantine, isolation and exclusion from programs and activities.  Will you track risk, quarantine and isolation status of community members?  What role will your healthcare and security authorities play in enforcement?  How will you work with individuals identified as being at risk of Ebola infection?
  • Education.  Do you need educational programming for various constituencies – faculty, staff, students, parents, the public?  What are the goals of those programs – reassurance, health and planning information, mitigation, prevention?
  • Drills.  Have you adequately tested your Ebola preparedness plan and involved appropriate members of the community?  What exactly will you do if a member of your community presents with a reasonable risk of, or actual, Ebola infection?
  • Civil rights, discrimination, and privacy issues.  Are your leadership, faculty and staff aware of potential due process, false imprisonment, disability, national origin discrimination, and privacy protection issues raised by various methods of addressing Ebola risk?
  • Risk management.  Have you evaluated relevant insurance coverages, including workers compensation, officers and directors, and business interruption coverages, among others?  What is your business continuity plan in the event Ebola interrupts operations, personnel, and facilities?

Once a plan tailored to your college or university is in place, it can readily be applied in response to numerous infectious diseases, including Ebola, the flu, norovirus, and others.