This story is from UCLA Today, a discontinued print and web publication.

UCLA plans for recovery after a disaster

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In 1994, after the fires were finally out and emergency crews had left, Cal State Northridge was in shambles. The San Fernando Valley campus had been near ground zero of the magnitude 6.7 earthquake, leaving shaken administrators, faculty and staff with one question: “What now?”
 
web-UCReady-bannerAll the campus buildings had been rendered unusable. Paper student records couldn’t be accessed. One open-sided tent was erected to house administrative functions. And the campus was in the middle of its January registration process, which was accomplished only after computer tapes were rescued from a badly damaged building and sent to Cal State Fresno for processing. “We didn’t even know who our students were, other than the ones we knew by name,” one bewildered administrator said at the time.
 
Could such a post-disaster nightmare occur here? UCLA’s Tara Brown and Wic Ware are working to take the desperation and panic out of “What now?” in the event that operations come to a sudden standstill anywhere on campus. While an earthquake, fire or flu pandemic are an obvious emergency, even a department-level disaster such as the sudden loss of a key staffer or supplier could cause big trouble.
 
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Using an online tool called UC Ready, Tara Brown and Wic Ware, business continuity planners, are helping departments on campus and in the UCLA Health System develop plans on how they will recover from a disaster. 
Brown, a business continuity planner in UCLA’s Office of Risk Management, and Ware, her counterpart in the UCLA Health System, have been working for months on an initiative to help the campus plan for the unplanned. Every campus department and unit in the UCLA Health System, including the two hospitals and the Faculty Practice Groups, will be asked to identify its critical functions, needs and key resources, and then to file a plan on how these functions can continue in event of an emergency.
 
So far, four campus units at UCLA have completed their plans — Student Legal Services, the Bruin Resource Center, the School of Dentistry and the Office of Insurance and Risk Management. In the UCLA Health System, five units have completed the process —  the Nutrition Department-Westwood, Laundry and Linen Service, the Pfleger Liver Institute and General Surgery Consultation Suite, the Children’s Health Center, and the One West Neurological Research and Rehabilitation Unit.
 
“Continuity planning is all about what you need to do to continue operating after the emergency is over,” said Brown, after life safety issues have been taken care of. Originally developed and implemented by the private sector, continuity planning is now also being embraced by nonprofits and governmental entities, especially in the aftermath of 9-11 and Hurricane Katrina.
 
“Put another way — no matter what happens today, it’s to be able to do tomorrow what you did yesterday,” said Dean Malilay, director of the Office of Insurance and Risk Management.
 
“What we’re aiming to do is to create shadow operational plans for departments which facilitate continuation of our mission of providing leading-edge patient care, research and education,” Ware said. “We go into each department and ask, ‘What are your essential functions? What do you rely on most in terms of human resources, space, IT, utilities, and equipment and supplies? If you lose your space, can you quickly set up shop someplace else? If there’s a massive electrical failure, do you have a good backup paper system in place?’
 
“The buzz words,” Ware said, “are ‘redundancy’ and ‘resilience.’”
 
All UC general campuses and two UC medical centers are also going through the continuity planning process, using a UC Berkeley-developed software tool called UC Ready. UC Berkeley started continuity planning, said Brown, because it was concerned about an earthquake fault line that runs goalpost-to-goalpost beneath its football stadium. “Once Berkeley started the process,” Brown said, “they realized they had to do more than just physically survive the risk. They had to figure out how they would continue to teach, to do research and provide public services.”
 
UC Ready — which Brown dubbed “the Turbo Tax of planning” — takes users step-by-step through a series of questions about the department’s operations, its resources and an action plan of things that can be done to minimize operational downtime when emergencies occur. The software includes analytical functions that, for instance, help a department determine its most critical operations and determine scenarios if one is disrupted. UC Ready also enables users to create practical documents such as lists of departments they depend on and rosters of staff who can work online from home.
 
Academic departments have their own unique planning challenges, Brown said. Administrators in those areas may decide to examine online and other alternate modes of teaching; to prioritize what courses are most critical; and to enter into reciprocal agreements with other institutions to share classroom space in case of an emergency.
 
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Wic Ware and Tara Brown.
The plans developed with UC Ready are available online and also stored on a shared drive on a server at UC Berkeley, with backup drives in Sacramento and Iron Mountain. Departments are also encouraged to store their plans locally on a hard drive and print copies for employees to keep at their work stations and homes. Each department’s plan remains private, but UC Ready identifies the contact person responsible for each plan so that departments can help each other out.
 
Some departments are already prepared with emergency plans because they are responsible for central campus functions: Administrative Information Systems, payroll, the co-generation power plant and Communications Technology Services “already have redundancies and backup plans in place,” Malilay said, adding that they will still use UC Ready in some form to advance their planning.
 
By creating a plan in advance, “no longer are you relying on folklore when you think about how you will continue operations,” said Malilay, who initiated cross-training in his department so that staffers can back each other up. “Everything is written down and communicated, and everyone is working off of the same plan.”
 
Other campuses around the country — 139 so far — have shown an interest in using UC Ready. Several campuses in the Cal State system have already adopted the system.  
 
Brown, who is giving UC Ready workshops to a few departments at a time, said it will take years for all at UCLA to have plans on file.
 
“UC Berkeley has been at it for eight years now,” she said. “Roughly 150 departments have plans, but there are more than 150 to go.”
 
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To see a video on what happened to Cal State Northridge after the 1994 earthquake hit, click here.
To read more about business continuity planning, see this. Wic Ware can be reached at wware@mednet.ucla.edu.
 
 
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