October 4, 2010

University to Sharpen Emergency Response With Help of Federal Grant

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The Department of Environmental Health and Safety received a $587,684 grant from U.S. Department of Education to improve emergency management strategies. Cornell was one of 17 colleges to receive the grant in 2010, which was announced last spring.   According to Ben Kuo, associate director for emergency management services at EH&S, the grant will go toward developing a comprehensive “all-hazards approach” to emergency situations, including chemical spills, flu pandemics and fire and weather hazards. Kuo said EH&S will look to integrating its response to such emergencies with the Cornell University Police Department, the Ithaca Fire Department and Bangs Ambulance.Christine Stallmann, director of EH&S, said Cornell currently has 243 emergency plans, but most of them are specific to single departments or areas of the University.“Within such a multi-faceted University there are so many generalities,” Stallmann said. With the “all-hazards approach,” Stallmann said, EH&S will work to consolidate some of the existing plans into a more comprehensive one.EH&S receives 2,400 emergency calls every year, which are handled by Cornell emergency response groups. While only 0.1 percent of calls are very serious, Stallmann said that “it’s all about making sure [the EH&S is] ready.”Stallmann added that Cornell’s campus is a uniquely vulnerable place because of the extensive research that is conducted and its large size. There are 3,500 labs, 50,000 fire systems and 2,200 University events every year.  “When you put this together, you start to get the picture,” Stallmann said.Part of the grant will also help fund new programs, training drills with other institutions and community groups, and system improvements. Stallmann said that she hopes to upgrade communications across the University and plans to incorporate new media sources, including Facebook and Twitter. Other funds will be spent on public education and awareness.According to Stallmann, they will also work to enhance the “business continuity,” or reduce recovery time, after an emergency. For example, if a lab catches fire, the goal would be to ensure that research begins in that lab again as soon as possible.Kathy Zoner, chief of CUPD, said that the grant is “fantastic” for Cornell.  “We’ve been asking for this type of program,” Zoner said. “Emergency planning is difficult even for trained individuals. If we have an emergency in any way, shape, or form, we want people to be more comfortable to respond.”

Original Author: Laura Shepard