$700,000 federal grant to help URI train its personnel in crisis preparedness, response

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KINGSTON, R.I. – January 7, 2010 – The University of Rhode Island has been awarded a $704,000 federal grant to update and improve its crisis preparedness, response, mitigation and recovery.

The U.S. Department of Education grant follows $1.9 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2008 that led to the establishment of the National Institute for Public Safety Research and Training at URI. Under that grant, URI is also developing an official Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency training curriculum for colleges and universities nationwide.

Shad Ahmed, chief of URI’s Emergency Medical Services and director of the University’s national public safety institute, is the principal investigator for the $1.9 million grant. URI Director of Public Safety Robert F. Drapeau and Ahmed are co-principal investigators on the newest grant. Drapeau said the two grants put the University in a leadership position in the nation and state.

The focus of the Department of Education grant is to involve every aspect of the University in crisis planning and response and to become compliant with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Incident Management System.

“We want to coordinate with all divisions and departments because if everyone is on board, the plan will be highly effective,” Ahmed said. “We are going to seek direction and advice from all sectors of the campus to develop a plan that works for everyone. To do that, we need people to share their ideas.”

Initial planning will include the URI Department of Public Safety, URI Emergency Medical Services and the Kingston Fire Department. The project will also include the following URI departments: Health Services, Communications and Marketing, Facilities Services, Housing and Residential Life, and Dining Services and others as the training proceeds.

The process began last spring when Robert L. Carothers, former University president, Robert A. Weygand, vice president for administration and finance, Drapeau and Ahmed met with representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency about the University becoming compliant with the National Incident Management System, a comprehensive, national approach to incident management. According to the FEMA website, the system is intended to: be applicable across a full spectrum of potential incidents, hazards, and impacts, regardless of size, location or complexity; improve coordination and cooperation between public and private entities in a variety of incident management activities; and provide a common standard for overall incident management.

In late 2009, URI President David M. Dooley signed a directive adopting the National Incident Management System for the University. As part of that directive, the University now has an Office of Emergency Management, which is housed in the Department of Public Safety. Ahmed is the office’s coordinator.

In his role as director of the National Institute for Public Safety Research and Training at URI, Ahmed is working with his team to enhance academic research in disaster response, disaster psychology, traffic flow, pedestrian mechanics, building design, special needs and populations. The institute will then apply the research to best practices for new and existing training for first responders.

“All of these activities have put us in a leadership role in the region,” Ahmed said. “We are involved with the state’s Campus Community Emergency Response Team working group that deals with municipalities. FEMA is very interested in our work to see if it can become a national model.”

Ahmed said two key components in any city or organization’s emergency response planning are long-term sustainability and continuity of operations.

Drapeau agreed, saying, “It’s important that people are getting trained now, but these plans have to be understandable so that when a new police chief or chief executive comes on board, they can learn the system in a short period of time. Plus, people in agencies get rusty, so plans must be tested regularly.”

Ahmed said that In terms of continuity of operations, a place like the University might have to ask staff and/or faculty members not normally involved in emergencies to take active roles.

“We may need people to fill in for those injured or sick. We need to take full advantage of our expertise, which is vast and varied,” Ahmed said.

“In terms of core responders, we might be able to deploy them to surrounding communities as a coordinated team in the event of a major crisis.”