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A quantitative assessment of institutions of higher education disaster preparedness and resilience

Stephen A. Murphy, PhD, MPH, MBA, Jeff Brown, PhD, Arti Shankar, PhD, MS, Maureen Lichtveld, MD, MPH


Objective: Assess levels of disaster preparedness in institutions of higher education (IHEs) in the United States.

Design: An anonymous, 57-question survey targeted individuals responsible for emergency management at IHEs across the US descriptive statistics and bivariate chi-square analysis were reported. Using the established threshold score of the initial Cities Readiness Initiative from the CDC, an individual respondent’s composite score of 70 percent or higher across 23 specific questions within the 57-question survey was labeled as “prepared.”

Results: Chi-square analysis identified variables associated with lower preparedness levels at IHEs not achieving the minimum 70 percent score. Having a campus law enforcement officer serve the additional role of emergency manager had a negative association with being prepared [χ 2 (1) = 10.18, p < 0.001]. Having emergency management as a separate university function from campus law enforcement had a positive relationship with being prepared [χ 2 (1) = 18.55, p < 0.001]. Staffing the emergency management function with a professional having less than 3 years of emergency management experience had a negative association with being prepared.

Conclusions: Our results indicate that minimizing the mission of emergency management by simply tasking a campus law enforcement officer with the extra responsibility of emergency management or entertaining less professionally qualified personnel to lead emergency management’s complex mission can lead to disastrous results. Not only is preparedness impacted, but also resilience when facing disaster situations. Our nation continues to strive to become more resilient when facing such adverse events, as formally embraced and emphasized in the 2017 National Security Strategy. Research continues to offer best practices and unfortunately continues to highlight gaps. While the higher education community is not one of the 16 federal critical infrastructure sectors, identified gaps such as those presented in our findings as well as those published by the National Academies of Sciences are cause for alarm. Not only are higher education campuses generating invaluable contributions to society in general, bio-innovation, public health, and medicine, to name a few, they are a core stakeholder in resilience research and implementation. Yet, research continues to indicate preparedness and therefore resilience gaps in this sector. The authors propose implications for practice, policy, and research to assist IHEs in achieving a more comprehensive, sustainable level of resilience.


institutions of higher education, emergency preparedness, resilience, disaster management

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