Risk mitigation and avoiding complacency

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I have a confession. The “Pandemic” chapter in our Emergency Operations Plan (EOP) was inadequate.

For more than three years, I served as vice president of administrative services at Joliet Junior College (JJC) in Illinois, where I was responsible for the risk-management function. We conducted drills and fine-tuned procedures. I had reviewed the “Pandemic” chapter in our EOP more than once but never suggested a change. I never directed a team to assess our preparedness for a pandemic. Subconsciously, I thought, “Pandemic? That’ll never happen!” Complacency causes blind spots.

Never again.

This article comes from the new issue of the Community College Journal, the flagship publication of the American Association of Community Colleges.

We will emerge from the coronavirus pandemic. We are wiser from this experience. We also are weary, anxious to develop some sense of normalcy and settle into a business-as-usual mindset.

However, we cannot let our complacency prevent us from identifying other major risks that could impact our operations. Here are five risks that may not be on your radar.

Civil unrest

There were sizable protests in the aftermath of the horrific murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Most protests were peaceful, but some were not. Is your institution prepared for a very large peaceful protest on your campus? What would be your response if protestors choose to march through your buildings on campus? If the protest appears to be escalating toward violence, at what stage do you evacuate? How do you evacuate without inciting even more violence?

Succession of leadership

In May, three of the six members of JJC’s president’s cabinet submitted their resignation within a week of each other. This was an unfortunate coincidence, not an orchestrated event from disgruntled executives. Does your institution have an adequate pipeline of talent to immediately fill 50 percent of its executive leadership team? I’m pleased to state that JJC was able to quickly develop a transition plan and identify qualified individuals to serve as interim replacements for all three positions.

Leadership scandals

Read the new issue of Community
College Journal online

People in positions of power sometimes behave badly. If a college executive breaks the law or behaves unethically, is your board of trustees equipped to swiftly handle the situation in a fair and transparent fashion while acting in the best interest of the college? Is your public relations function prepared to effectively manage the fallout with faculty, staff, students and the community? Are some college leaders considered “untouchable” because of their personal relationships with board members?

Cyber risk

Community colleges store massive amounts of personally sensitive information. Back-office functions like information technology are notoriously underfunded at many community colleges. Does your institution adequately invest in the prevention of cyber attacks? How do you really know that your institution’s data security staff is effective at protecting data and warding off cyber attacks? Do you blindly trust your chief information officer, or do you engage third-party experts to objectively assess your security procedures and identify vulnerabilities?

Escalation risk

An institution’s culture can impact how quickly a risk is identified. If a lower-level employee identifies a risk at your institution, is he able to escalate the concern to the appropriate level of the organization? If a middle manager is aware of an ethical violation of a senior executive, can she escalate the allegation to a level higher than the alleged perpetrator? Most institutions have a whistleblower policy and procedures to anonymously make allegations of wrongdoing. However, this policy has no value if employees fear retaliation.

Colleagues, our students were able to complete the spring semester because we swiftly converted to a online delivery of instruction. Through it all, we have continued to advise students, pay employees and keep our facilities safe. It is truly remarkable. Be proud of your institution’s response to COVID-19.

About the Author

Rob Galick
is executive vice president of finance and administrative services at Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. He is also president of the Community College Business Officers.