Disaster Preparedness: AT&T’s Torri Behnke-Spiegelhalter discusses technology options for higher education institutions

Technology can play a key role in disaster preparedness, but without adequate planning and practicing, your investment may not yield the results you need in the event of a crisis.

That was the message delivered by Torri Behnke-Spiegelhalter, AT&T’s Government, Education and Medical Director of Homeland Security, Southwest Region to institutional representatives at the Nov. 1, 2007, Missouri Education and Research Consortium (MERC) meeting.

Behnke-Spiegelhalter explored a number of federal initiatives that impact local planning:

  • National Incident Management System (NIMS): “a unified approach to incident management; standard command and management structures; and emphasis on preparedness, mutual aid and resource management.
  • Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act: Title VI of the SAFE Port Act, (WARN) creates within the Department of Homeland Security, a voluntary National Alert System to provide a public communications system capable of alerting the public on a national, regional or local basis to emergency situations requiring “a public response.
  • Government Emergency Telephone Service (GETS) and Wireless Priority Service (WPS): higher education institutions qualify to become GETS/WPS users. GETS gives emergency agencies priority handling for emergency calls in heavy network traffic; WPS provides end users with the ability to be put in a queue for the next available wireless resource ahead of end users without WPS.

Behnke-Spiegelhalter noted that many homeland security grants and funding are tied to the ability to demonstrate NIMS compliancy. Schools should include NIMS in their emergency response plans, she said.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools (OSDFS) provides several other resources including information on formula and discretionary grants. These grants can be used to promote school safety and student health as well as online workshops, tips and best practices, and links to other organizations/agencies that provide school safety/student health resources. The OSDFS sponsors Emergency Management for Schools trainings each year.

As MERC representatives, the attendees were oriented toward employing technology to prevent and help manage a crisis. Behnke-Spiegelhalter explained that that technology is only one important component of an overall plan.

“The last thing I want to be accused of saying that technology is going to cure all of your problems,” Behnke-Spiegelhalter said. “It won’t. It is useful but not the first line of defense. The people are.”

Behnke-Spiegelhalter said she could not overstate the importance of planning and preparation. Higher education institutions in Missouri and across the nation need to “implement a well-thought-out and documented plan for continuity of operations, emergency response and disaster recovery that includes regular testing of the plan, monitoring its effectiveness and amending it continually to accommodate the ever-changing environment at the institution.”

Behnke-Spiegelhater Presentation (PowerPoint file; 16 MB)

shoryl | Thursday, November 8, 2007 | |


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