You are here

Disaster Recovery

Kutztown University (Pa.) was not as badly affected as places along the coast, but downed trees and extended power outages in the area were a challenge.

Hurricane Sandy made landfall in Atlantic City, NJ, at the end of October, creating devastation up and down the East Coast. Over 100 people in the U.S. died as a result of the storm and millions were without power for weeks. College and university campuses were not immune to the damage. Many institutions evacuated residential students as a precaution before the storm and were then forced to cancel classes for the rest of the week due to lack of power, as at the University of Hartford (Conn.) or hazardous conditions in their surrounding community, as at Fairfield University (Conn).

There has been a rash of major embezzlement cases cropping up like a pox at institutions of higher learning all around the country. While employee theft occurs daily at all types of organizations, we have tracked a disproportionate number of significant misappropriations at U.S. colleges and universities. The damage, while significant, is not only financial. Institutional reputation, alumni relations, endowment growth, employee productivity, and even enrollment, can all be negatively affected by a major defalcation.

Some of the scariest risks on campus remain hidden until the moment that students, teachers, and staff experience them. Until the shooter kills, the funding disappears, or the opposing party files the lawsuit, everything seems fine. Then, the overwhelming grief takes hold or the power to educate diminishes due to lack of resources. That's why, as campus leaders know, action must be taken before the risk occurs.

The tornadoes that ripped across the South in April devastated everything in their paths. Some institutions had to close their doors before semester’s end.

Very few--if any--components of campus life are as important to the institution as emergency planning. A college's reputation and, more importantly, the public safety and security of its campus community are at stake.

When developing and refining a business continuity plan, "you have to look beyond voice and data," urges Bryan Mehaffey, vice president of technology at Ave Maria University (Fla.). "You have to think about facilities and life safety." Campus buildings and the equipment they contain are worth millions of dollars and shouldn't be forgotten once students, faculty, and staff are safe.

Four feet of snow in a week might be awesome if you run a ski resort, but it causes havoc if you run a college or university campus. That is just the quandary campus leaders in the mid-Atlantic were dealing with in December 2009.

"We couldn't open campus," says Joy Hughes, CIO and vice president for information technology at George Mason University (Va.). "You couldn't drive around."

Natural and man-made disasters cause immediate harm and can also have an impact for months or years afterward. This article offers basic recommendations for pre- and post-disaster leadership, planning, preparation, and action to mitigate a disaster's effect, expedite your institution's recovery, and maximize the financial recovery process. Start with the premise that disasters do occur and pose serious challenges and problems for institutional leadership.

Many colleges and universities are confronting even more complex challenges than usual. Indeed, the timing, intensity, and consequences of some of the most serious challenges qualify them as outright crises.

Managing multiple difficult events such as salary freezes, budget cuts, job reductions, enrollment declines, and rising discount rates can seem overwhelming to even the most experienced among us. Can there be any doubt for higher education leaders that it truly is "lonely at the top" these days?