In a crisis, can your department keep functioning?


No one at Pitt is building bunkers or aiming to move the campus to an undisclosed location. Instead, the Pitt version of disaster prepping involves planning for more likely scenarios — a major building fire, a cyber attack that shuts down communications — in ways the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management hopes will leave Pitt ready to deal with anything.

“I’m helping departments think through the first steps, two days after you lost your building,” said Charlyn J. Loera, the office’s business continuity coordinator. “What do we do? Who do we contact? Where do we start?”

Using software dubbed UPitt Ready, she helps individual departments or larger Pitt units brainstorm the right questions to ask and where to find the right answers.

“What we’re doing here is really helping departments start a conversation,” she said, “because the software is in a questionnaire format.”

How detailed is each plan? “It is as detailed as departments want it to get. It’s very tailored to each area, because their needs could fluctuate and change. We’re trying to get as many tools to help people in as many situations as possible.”

Since starting her job last April, Loera has worked with the provost’s office and the Office of Business Operations to prepare contingency plans, designating plan managers, and plan editors below them, to maintain an ever-evolving blueprint of responses.

Even during the pandemic, when most everyone was forced off campus, some campus services never shut down, Loera pointed out, from facilities management to police. Similarly, she hopes her efforts allow departments to identify how critical functions will be retained or reorganized, so that they understand where top resources need to be funneled.

Each plan should cover “Who do we impact and what are those ripple effects?” Loera said. The plans created through UPitt Ready form “a living document,” she added. “It is always being updated”  — and it could be used, in the meantime, to help new hires see their predecessors’ duties and contacts.

While disaster planning by large units such as the provost’s office may touch every school and center, “our goal is to have every department create a plan,” she said. “Our goal is to get every department in to meet with me,” while letting those units and departments decide whether individual plans are needed for smaller groups within them.

Loera arrived at Pitt from Texas during the pandemic, and was first in charge here of the Building Safety Concierge Program. It helped her prepare for her current job, she said, since she had to find out quickly how the University operated and introduce herself to many people in many departments, learning the connections among Pitt community members. Managing the students at concierge desks, and the questions they received from the public, taught her a lot about emergency preparation, she said.

Thanks to our experience of the pandemic, Loera said, “People really do know what they need” now, at least in some emergencies. They understand who is affected, what office services can be brought back up immediately and what can be deferred.

“It shows sometimes that catastrophe is not just happening to you, it is happening worldwide,” she concludes. “We’ll keep adapting, keep on learning.”

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.

Follow the University Times on Twitter and Facebook.