University officials review current business continuity plan to prepare for disaster

Assistant News Reporter

University officials are reviewing the emergency plan to implement changes designed to better help operations return to normal in the case of a disaster.

Texas State received a letter from Texas Homeland Security asking to complete a review of the university’s current business continuity plan. The plan details how the university will recover after a disaster, said Bill Nance, vice president for Finance and Support Services. The event could be anything from a natural disaster, such as a fire or flood, to a terrorist event, like a bomb threat, he said.

“We’ve had a business continuity plan for a while, and now we’ll go back and take a look at it and make sure we’ve covered all the things that (Texas Homeland Security) said in that letter that it should cover,” Nance said.

The letter was sent to all state agencies including Texas public universities, said Tom Vinger, Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman. Nothing sparked the distribution of the letter, but it was simply to remind state agencies of their responsibilities, Vinger said.

Although this letter served as a reminder to other agencies, Texas State has had a continuity plan in place for years, Nance said. The Texas legislature passed a resolution about three years asking all state agencies to develop a business continuity plan, Nance said. This directed Texas Homeland Security to develop criteria for those plans, he said.

The university finalized the current plan about a year ago, Nance said. The university’s business continuity plan has been in place and was an initiative of the Texas State University System, he said.

The guidelines from the state are helpful, and there is a committee assessing the university’s current business continuity plan to ensure it meets those recommendations, Nance said. The committee has a representative from the department of Environmental Health, Safety and Risk Management, the University Police Department and Information Technology.

Texas State has been “way ahead of the game” in having an emergency plan in place for years, said Russell Clark, director of Environmental Health, Safety and Risk Management. Some other Texas universities are not up to date, he said.

“We are way above everybody else in the state,” Clark said. “They use us as kind of a model anyway.”

Nance said after receiving the letter the committee met and tasked the three departments to review the current plan and determine if any adjustments are needed. He said the committee will meet later this month to discuss the updates.

Often the updates are a matter of the wording of the plan or designating new sections for different information, Nance said.

“We were proactive years ago,” Clark said. “We knew it was coming so we’ve already had our plan.”

The business continuity plan is made up of small plans for each office, Nance said. For example, part of the plan details how the payroll office would pay university employees if there was a fire that destroyed J.C. Kellam, he said.
“Really, it’s at the micro level,” Nance said. “Each office that preforms a function has to have a plan of how they would continue that function, and then all of that rolls up into an overarching university plan.”

The directors of the university’s offices or departments must be familiar with their section of the recovery plan, Nance said.

The letter from Texas Homeland Security said the university will have the updates, if necessary, completed by next fall, Nance said.

The university took place in emergency training specifically for higher education through Homeland Security Jan. 8 at the San Marcos Activity Center, Clark said. Different departments from campus are given emergency scenarios to practice interacting with each other in crisis situations, he said.

The university was not required to take an emergency training course, but did it voluntarily, Clark said.