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Steve Charvat, UW’s first emergency management director, stepping down

Steve Charvat’s arrival at the University of Washington as Director of Emergency Management in 2003 brought with it many firsts. Coming to the UW after serving as deputy emergency director in Washington, D.C. — on the heels of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and anthrax scares — Charvat was asked to build an emergency management program at the UW and put some structure around aspects of emergency planning that hadn’t yet been tied together.

In the years leading up to Charvat’s arrival, the Nisqually Earthquake shook the region in 2001, the Center for Urban Horticulture was targeted in a firebombing attack that same year, and the Educational Outreach Building was destroyed in a 2002 fire on the site along 25th Ave. NE that is now the Northcut Landing retail and office space. These incidents and concerns over emergency preparation and response served as the catalyst for development of a dedicated Emergency Management unit.

The UW soon became a model for emergency preparation, becoming among the first FEMA-designated “disaster-resistant universities” in 2003, and the first university in the Pac-12 and in the state of Washington to be designated “Storm Ready” by the National Weather Service. Charvat also teamed up with the City of Seattle to apply for federal grant funding to equip a state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center, which opened in Spring 2011. The previous EOC was in a small room mostly used for yoga classes in the dilapidated Bryant Building, which has since been demolished.

After nearly two decades, Charvat is stepping down from his role as director of emergency management to pursue other opportunities.

“I feel like I’ve put my mark on the program in laying the foundational elements so that the next generation who lead the program have the tools, knowledge and information available to take it to the next level,” Charvat said. “Each drill, home football game, exercise, training, campus incident, storm response, crisis and disaster over the past 20 years tested our plans, challenged our assumptions and provided a number of lessons learned for future improvement.”

Emergency management is not easily or immediately recognizable to many and, through planning and a little luck, may be called upon in crisis infrequently — the past three years notwithstanding. But, Charvat said, people and organizations have immediate needs when a major threat or disaster happens. The UW’s Emergency Management unit was established to provide a one-stop spot for planning for disasters and coordinated damage assessment, communications, assistance and recovery. With a foundation two decades in the making, the next era of emergency management at the UW is around the corner.

“The UW is a wonderful place to work and I’ve always been very proud of the partnerships and the expertise within the University dedicated to protecting our mission of teaching, research and public service,” Charvat said. “I’ve seen the program grow, and I am confident that the program will continue to meet the challenges of tomorrow by building on the successes of the past.”

A search for Charvat’s successor will get underway in winter quarter.

Safety tips for the new quarter

Welcome back to winter quarter, Huskies.

Welcome back to classrooms and labs, lectures, bus and train commutes, locking up your bike, walking across campuses in the dark, watching for snow and ice, and thinking about spring.

We have a few Top of the Quarter Tips for you. Some of these may seem basic, but sometimes it’s the simple things that keep you, our community and your gear safe.

Think ahead. If you’re working in an open area, a café, a library or wherever, don’t leave your things behind and out of your sight in order to get another coffee or use the restroom. It’s a pain to pack up, but it’s a bigger pain to lose all your work when your laptop (or phone) walks away with someone else.

Bike theft remains unfortunately too common on all UW campuses. Use a U-lock instead of a cable. We’ve had cases of thieves using power saws on U-locks, but it takes more time and attracts more attention. On the Seattle campus you can register your bike’s make and serial number with UWPD, which gives a chance of the bike turning up when second-hand shops check the database.

More basics:

  • Register your cellphone number with UW Alert so you get text advisories and alerts (in addition to emails).
  • Download the SafeZone app so you have another option for quickly reaching 911. SafeZone, also, has a non-emergency “safety timer” function for people who walk to and from the Seattle campus. For instance, if you walk regularly at night from Suzzallo Library to your apartment at NE 47th and Brooklyn NE, activate the app when you leave Suzzallo and it connects with 911 dispatch as a “virtual guardian.” If you don’t arrive at your destination in a certain period of time, 911 will check on you.
  • Interest in NightWalk (206-685-9255) service for the Seattle campus surged last quarter and additional capacity has been added. It’s not a walk anymore, by the way. This is a ride with a UWPD Security Officer or a Lyft driver if demand means the wait for an officer would be too long. Also, you can hop the night-time circulator bus, Husky NightRide, to move around the Seattle campus.

Be aware. Keep connected with your surroundings when moving around campus and around town. The Puget Sound region is experiencing all the challenges of the post-COVID economy and the human crises of unsheltered homelessness and untreated mental illness. Seattle’s U District is a great neighborhood teeming with excellent food, small shops and entertainment. Capitol Hill, Downtown, SODO, Columbia City and other neighborhoods also have fantastic music venues reachable through the magic of light rail. Be adventurous, but be smart.

UW campuses are public spaces where everyone is welcome. However, not every interior space is open to the public. Locked spaces are for the security of students in residence halls and for students, staff and faculty who work with expensive equipment, privileged data or during hours when not many people are around. Tailgating, allowing someone you don’t know to enter a secure space behind you, compromises safety for others. This can be complicated at crowded passing times, but it’s OK to say something to someone trying to trail in behind you, like: “Hi, I’m Jane. What’s your name? Do you have your Husky card? We’ve had some weird stuff in the past quarter and I’m practicing my no-tailgating skills. How am I doing?”

Be kind. That means to yourself and others. It may sound trite, but it’s true – everyone is carrying something the rest of us don’t easily see.

For most of us, being a good friend, ally and bystander takes thought and practice. Sometimes it’s just going for a walk or coffee, but sometimes it’s more. For students, each campus has a counseling center ready to help with stress and mental health concerns. For faculty and staff, that help comes via CareLink. Maybe your concern about your own well-being or someone else’s behavior is rising, though. Don’t hesitate to reach out to SafeCampus, the University’s violence prevention and response unit.

Feeling safe and being safe in our campus communities depends on all of us. Thanks for doing your part.

Developing smoke and heat guidance for UW locations

It’s wet and gray the way later October is supposed to be, but just a few days ago most of Western Washington was struggling with what at certain moments topped the “World’s Worst Air Quality” lists. Unfortunately, wildfire smoke has become a standard late summer, early fall phenomenon for all three campuses. In addition, we’ve seen higher summer peak temperatures. It’s time to treat inclement summer weather as an ongoing challenge requiring standards connected to guidance and, when necessary, requirements for UW communities.

Currently, UW Emergency Management and UW Environmental Health & Safety communicate when the air quality index (AQI) levels rise and EH&S posts an alert detailing the steps units should take to protect student, staff and faculty health. However, with the frequency of air quality issues over the past several summers and the breadth of UW’s reach around Puget Sound and Western Washington, refinement and amplification of this approach is needed for the future.

Previously, the UW Weather Status Assessment Group convened only for winter weather challenges like snow and ice. It’s made up of operations-focused groups like Facilities, Human Resources, Student Life, Academic Affairs, UW Medicine and News & Information. It makes recommendations specifically about operations on the Seattle campus and supports operational decisions at UW-Bothell and UW-Tacoma.

A sub-group of this team is now meeting to focus on adapting the WSAG to advise on inclement summer weather. The goal is to review the work on AQI standards and requirements under way at the state level in Washington and connect it to the needs of UW campuses and facilities. In the end, the idea is to come up with a relatively easy to understand chart of AQI levels with corresponding University guidance or requirements. The guidance and requirements will likely mean more preparation for summer weather; a greater understanding of specific building systems that protect occupants from smoke, particulates and extreme heat; and potential operational changes in high AQI or heat circumstances.

With this review work underway now, the hope is to have draft standards and guidance in winter quarter, followed by refinement for application next summer. If you would like to learn more, please contact Barry Morgan, UWEM Plans, Training & Exercise Manager at bm1933@uw.edu.

Update on the UW’s response to violence in the U District

Last weekend’s violence in the University District has raised important and urgent questions from students, their parents, faculty and staff about safety in the neighborhood. While we have been focused on providing support to the students who were directly involved in last weekend’s incidents, we have also been in frequent communication with City Hall, Seattle police and the U District Partnership to ensure safety in the neighborhood now and continue our long-term work to prevent violence. Though the urgency has increased in the past few days, we have long worked productively with these partners.

Campus Community Safety Report to the Community

August 1, 2022

After six months of conversations, research and feedback gathering, Campus Community Safety Project members have compiled recommendations and next steps to charter a new Division of Campus Community Safety. This division will be the new home for first-line safety units, including UW Emergency Management, SafeCampus and UW Police (Seattle campus) beginning September 2022. You can read the full report to the community here.

May 2022 update

This month project leadership continued to refine the proposed organizational chart for the new Division of Campus Community Safety. Much of the head-scratching had to do with how the new division’s administrative functions should look in light of the UW’s Finance Transformation project. In practical terms, UWFT means some finance-related jobs at the UW will change and staff may be moved around. Aligning the new division’s finance functions with this model now — a year ahead of the rest of campus — should allow for a smoother transition for the division as a whole.

Additionally, project leadership continued to conduct interviews with other universities that are undertaking reimagining and reorganizing work on their campuses. This month we had conversations with staff at Portland State University and the University of Michigan. The settings and strengths of schools may be different across the country, but the focus on anti-racism; developing effective on-call interventions for people in behavioral health crisis; and creating communities grounded in belonging run through most of the efforts.

In step with interest across all three campuses, the UW Office of the President has approved Phase I funding for developing proposals for effective, unarmed responses for people in behavioral health crisis, starting with the Seattle campus. Combined with support from the U District Partnership, this funding will get the project moving forward with students (through the Evans Policy Innovation Collaborative) undertaking research and interviews to build an understanding of current needs and services in the Seattle campus area and what’s working in other cities. Stay tuned for updates. If you would like to get involved, please use the comment form below and include your contact information.

April 2022 update

Though largely unseen by the greater campus community, the UW’s three campuses and UW Medicine undertake continuous planning and training for how to react, operate and recover if disaster — natural, structural or human-prompted — strikes. Much of this work is defined by federal and state policies and reflected in the Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan. Both the UW’s Internal Audit unit and Enterprise Risk Management team are in the midst of reviewing the UW’s emergency management plans and structures. Coupled with the move of the Seattle-based Emergency Management team into a new division focused on campus community safety, now is an ideal time to assess existing plans and delegations of authorities in case quick decisions are necessary.

Before work on the new Campus Community Safety Division began, the UW had an Emergency Readiness Committee. Members met regularly to share information and coordinate activities. That group was recently sunsetted and, starting this summer, the Emergency Management Planning Committee will start meeting. This group will be comprised of decision-makers from key units across the University. A separate staff-level group will be convened for ongoing information sharing and coordination.

Considerations around how the UW prepares for emergencies have helped inform some of the duties and responsibilities of the new Vice President for Campus Community Safety. When it comes time to search for that person, the job duties will include disaster response, operations and recovery.

Additionally, our work on a proposed joint project with students to assess the potential to provide unarmed alternative responders for calls about people in acute mental health crisis continues to progress. We are currently waiting to hear about funding for the first phase – a review of calls for help, what services exist for the Seattle campus and the University District currently, and what callers say they need in terms of services. Special thanks to the City of Seattle Mayor’s Office and the newly established City of Seattle Community Safety and Communications Center for sharing information about their efforts to screen 911 calls for those that could better be answered by skilled intervention teams.

Thank yous: We are grateful to the following individuals and groups for their time in April.

  • UW Medicine staff regarding Montlake bus stop safety
  • Seattle Mayor’s advisor for public safety
  • Director of the new City of Seattle Community Safety and Communications Center
  • Faculty Council on Race, Equity & Justice
  • Tri-Campus Advisory Board
  • Student Advisory Board for the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity