Emergency Management Framework and Evacuations

Emergency Management Framework

Harvard University’s schools, departments, and senior leadership maintain a variety of emergency management plans that are designed to provide the framework for managing incidents, no matter the type, scale or complexity. While these plans do not cover every conceivable contingency situation, they do supply guidelines and procedures to cope with most campus emergencies.

Harvard’s emergency management structure is designed to be scalable to the needs of the emergency, consisting of school and department emergency management teams and a university-wide Crisis Management Team. School and department teams are called upon in all emergency situations to provide local leadership and implement University policies, where necessary. In the event of a campus-wide emergency, executive leadership is provided by the Crisis Management Team.

Emergency Evacuations

Emergency evacuation plans have been created for buildings on campus as well as for major outdoor areas of campus such as the Harvard Yard and the Business School campus. Building evacuation drills are conducted throughout campus annually in dormitories, academic, and office buildings. Evacuation drills are both announced and unannounced based on building occupancy. Each drill is documented including its date, time, location and any pertinent information that will help improve future evacuations. Building evacuation maps are posted prominently within each building. The HUPD does not tell building occupants in advance about the designated locations for long-term evacuations because those decisions are affected by time of day, location of the building being evacuated, the availability of the various designated emergency gathering locations on campus, and other factors such as the location and nature of the threat. In both cases, HUPD staff on the scene will communicate information to students, faculty, and staff regarding the developing situation or any evacuation status changes.

The purpose of evacuation drills is to prepare building occupants for an organized evacuation in case of a fire or other emergency. Evacuation drills are used as a way to educate and train occupants on fire safety issues specific to their building. During the drill, occupants practice drill procedures and familiarize themselves with the location of exits and the sound of the fire alarm.


During the Evacuation:

If you recognize a fire situation, activate the alarm, evacuate to a safe location using the nearest exit, and dial 911. When a fire alarm is activated, everyone must evacuate. Stop what you are doing immediately and head toward an emergency exit. Do not delay evacuation. Occupants should shut their doors behind them as they leave. Follow exit signs to nearest fire stairwell or exit discharge; do not use elevators. Once outside, occupants are required to report to their emergency evacuation meeting location to be accounted for. Occupants must follow instructions of HUPD and the Fire Department, as they are legally in charge of the building during their response to the alarm. Occupants with disabilities or other special needs who require additional assistance may shelter in place if in a fully sprinkled building, conduct a horizontal evacuation to a safer area on the same floor, or shelter in a fire-rated stair well. First responders should be informed as to the location within the building of any occupants in need of assistance. Once the building has been cleared, occupants will be permitted to re-enter.

When Evacuation is Not Possible

In a fire or fire alarm situation, always check doors to see if they are hot or warm to the touch before you open them. If heat or smoke prevents you from evacuating, return to your room and use towels or other cloth items to seal around the door. Hang a white object in the window and reclose the window (if it opens) as much as possible. Do not reopen your window (if it opens) unless forced to do so by smoke. After you have sealed your door, immediately call 911 and advise emergency responders of your location and situation. Wait for help to arrive.

Sheltering In Place

Because sheltering in place may be the protective action recommendation for several emergencies with differing risks, and because sometimes the initial recommendation is to shelter in place followed by relocation, there is no single set of shelter in place procedures. Based on the type of emergency, such as Tornado, Hostile Intruder, or Hazardous Material Release Outside, you should consult each relevant section for guidance. Emergencies change as they progress. The questions to ask yourself are: Am I safer inside or outside? Where am I safest inside? Where am I safest outside?

Sheltering In Place Procedures - What it Means to "Shelter in Place"

If an incident occurs and the buildings or areas around you become unstable, or if the air outdoors becomes dangerous due to toxic or irritating substances, it is usually safer to stay indoors, because leaving the area may expose you to that danger. Thus, to “shelter-in-place” means to make a shelter of the building that you are in, and with a few adjustments this location can be made even safer and more comfortable until it is safe to go outside.


Basic Shelter in Place Guidance

If an incident occurs and the building you are in is not damaged, stay inside in an interior room until you are told it is safe to come out. If your building is damaged, take your personal belonging (purse, wallet, access card, etc.) and follow the evacuation procedures for your building (close your door, proceed to the nearest exit, and use the stairs instead of the elevators). Once you have evacuated, seek shelter at the nearest University building quickly. If police or fire department personnel are on the scene, follow their directions.


How You Will Know to "Shelter in Place"

A shelter-in-place notification may come from several sources, HUPD, Housing Staff members, other University employees, Local PD, or other authorities utilizing the University’s emergency communications tools.


How to "Shelter In Place"

No matter where you are, the basic steps of shelter-in-place will generally remain the same. Should the need ever arise, follow these steps, unless instructed otherwise by local emergency personnel:

  1. If you are inside, stay where you are. Collect any emergency shelter-in-place supplies and a telephone to be used in case of emergency. If you are outdoors, proceed into the closest building quickly or follow instructions from emergency personnel on the scene.
  2. Locate a room to shelter inside. It should be:
    1. An interior room;
    2. Above ground level; and
    3. Without windows or with the least number of windows. If there is a large group of people inside a particular building, several rooms maybe necessary.
  3. Shut and lock all windows (tighter seal) and close exterior doors.
  4. Turn off air conditioners, heaters, and fans.
  5. Close vents to ventilation systems as you are able. (University staff will turn off the ventilation as quickly as possible.)
  6. Make a list of the people with you and ask someone (hall staff, faculty, or other staff) to call the list in to HUPD so they know where you are sheltering. If only students are present, one of the students should call in the list.
  7. Turn on a radio or TV and listen for further instructions.
  8. Make yourself comfortable.

Post Incident:

At the completion of the incident, the Fire/Rescue Department or other appropriate emergency official(s) should release the building to the facility leadership. The facility should be pronounced all clear, or clear with conditions for re-occupancy. The facility leadership should then communicate the all clear or the clear with conditions to the area entrance monitors in person. It is recommended that facility managers also communicate the reason the fire alarm/emergency evacuation occurred to help increase occupant awareness in the building.

Additional Drills and Exercises

In conjunction with other emergency agencies, the University conducts numerous emergency response exercises each year, including table top and field exercises. Monthly testing of the Emergency Notification System is also conducted. These tests are designed to assess and evaluate the emergency response plans and capabilities of the institution. These tests may be announced or unannounced. For each test, the University documents a description of the exercise, the date and time, and whether it was announced or unannounced. General information about the emergency response and evacuation procedures is publicized via email each year in conjunction with at least one test per calendar year, as part of the University’s Clery Act compliance efforts. 

More information on the University’s emergency preparedness and response efforts as well as evacuation guidance can be found at
www.harvard.edu/emergency and www.ehs.harvard.edu.