Allegheny’s Incident Command Team responds to COVID-19 crisis

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Following FEMA guidelines, all higher education facilities are required to have an Incident Command Team as a part of the Incident Command System, to be prepared for any large-scale incidents that may occur. 

Allegheny’s Incident Command Team has been at work over these last months, working to help faculty, staff and students to be able to continue working together during the COVID-19 pandemic. The team consists of employees from the Provost’s Office, the Registrar, Student Life, Human Resources, Finance, College Relations, Faculty Council, Dining, Housekeeping, Public Safety, Physical Facilities, Alumni, Enrollment, Athletics and Conferences and Events, according to April Thompson, dean of students. 

At Allegheny, functional areas for the pandemic response include planning, operations, logistics, finance, communications, and community liaison,” Thompson said in an email to The Campus. “We are being guided daily by President (Hilary) Link who works closely with each of the areas.”

Director of Public Safety James Basinger described his previous work with FEMA’s Incident Command System as a former police officer and how the overall system works, not just at Allegheny.

“The ICS was initially created by firefighters in the early 1970s as a way to coordinate efforts in battling wildfires,” Basinger said. “It has since been adopted by other first responders and law enforcement to deal with a variety of incidents ranging from simple traffic incidents to large scale pre planned events. ICS ensures accountability and the efficient use of resources.”

According to Basinger, the ICS has four main priorities — Life Safety, Incident Stabilization, Property Conservation and Return to Normal. The primary groups that make up the Incident Command System are planning, operations, logistics, finance/administration and public information officers. These teams also exist in Allegheny’s Incident Command Team.

Over the past year at Allegheny the Incident Command Team has responded to a tornado warning, a power outage, the armed assailant during fall 2019 and now COVID-19. 

Thompson described the number of teams that are a part of the overall Incident Command System, and how they have been collaborating during this time.

“The team works collaboratively every day to organize key decisions and make sure that we have considered as many options and implications as possible,” Thompson said. “(Basinger) has been providing information to the team and communicating with county and state agencies. Logistics was able to quickly inventory and distribute (personal protective equipment)  that we have on hand, coordinate food service and food delivery, and create isolation spaces.”

In addition to these teams, the planning team worked to get classes online as fast as possible, the operations team organized plans for the summer and strategies to get students home, along with plans for students still on campus, and the communications team created a website, and has communicated with the campus community regularly, according to Thompson.

“This team is working every day to ensure the safety of students and employees in the midst of this unprecedented event,” Thompson said. “Their dedication and care for the Allegheny community is inspiring.”

Kelly Boulton, sustainability coordinator, described herself as being “drafted into” the team, but said she works with physical plant to figure out what to do about heating buildings that are now empty until August. 

Boulton said that while working as a part of this team that includes multiple people across campus, the day to day institutional hierarchy goes away. 

“Everyone serves a very specific role when we get together,” Boulton said. “The part that’s interesting is that the workplace and institution has its own hierarchy of who’s in charge and who does what. But when we go into the incident command structure, all of that pristine day to day hierarchy goes away and we’re functioning as we need to according to the roles we each play on the Incident Command Team.”

Additionally, Boulton said the team works with places outside of Allegheny like the Meadville Medical Center and the Crawford County Department of Health. 

This team is working every day to ensure the safety of students and employees in the midst of this unprecedented event. Their dedication and care for the Allegheny community is inspiring.”

— April Thompson, Dean of Students

The team came together before spring break to hold press conferences and run scenarios, and to make everything as seamless as possible, according to Boulton. 

“To the best of my knowledge this is something that we haven’t really had to do in the past, as we have not had an incident like this before, but it’s something that I think has worked very well and we will use again in the future if needed,” Boulton said.

Boulton said that while this is an unprecedented situation and not something that anyone has had to deal with before, the Incident Command Team has been focusing on goals and trying to anticipate unintended impacts that might come from this.

“As someone who has worked for the college for 12 years, but also as an Allegheny grad, it really made me feel a lot of trust and confidence in the institution and that we were structuring it in this way so that they were upholding the values of the institution and showing a commitment to students above all else, even when everything is crazy and you can’t count on anything,” Boulton said.