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MIT Emergency Management establishes COVID-19 planning team and working groups

Campus-wide effort to ensure academic, research, and business continuity, as well as continued medical, residential life, and communications response to COVID-19.
Photo: Christopher Harting

As part of the Institute’s ongoing work to respond effectively to the rapidly evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) public health emergency, MIT Emergency Management has established a comprehensive preparedness effort focused on the following key areas of campus life: academics, research, residential life, business, medical, and communications.

MIT Emergency Management has organized community members with relevant expertise into working groups and an overarching planning team, charging them with developing a set of contingency plans in the event MIT’s normal operations are interrupted in the coming weeks.

“It’s important to remember that the risk to the MIT community is still relatively low,” says Suzanne Blake, director of Emergency Management and chair of the planning team. “We are taking these planning steps and engaging campus experts in our work out of an abundance of caution. The goal is to be fully prepared in case the situation does change so that we can continue to ensure the health and safety of our community and carry out the Institute’s core functions.”

The working groups and planning team are aspects of MIT’s thorough response to COVID-19, which President L. Rafael Reif detailed in a letter to the community today. The sending of the letter follows the release yesterday of new guidance from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Blake says the planning team and working groups will meet multiple times per week for the foreseeable future, and they will be monitoring issues and creating action plans in the following areas:

Academic continuity

This working group, which is being led by Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate and Graduate Education Ian Waitz, is developing plans to enable as much educational continuity as feasible in situations where students, faculty, and staff may not be able to be on campus for a brief or extended period of time, or are otherwise faced with limitations to normal academic progress due to COVID-19. This includes planning and developing resources to support continuing classes, strategies for maintaining graduate student research, planning and guidance for academic events of all sizes, and assessing implications for student travel for internships and global experiences. Importantly, the group will also be defining event-driven criteria and procedures for altering academic policies including the Academic Calendar. The group will also be assessing and developing options to mitigate the financial impacts graduate and undergraduate students may face under different scenarios.

Research continuity

This working group, led by Ronald Hasseltine, assistant provost for research administration, is responsible for identifying ways to protect critical research in the event of a brief or extended disruption to normal operations. The group’s objectives include compiling an inventory of sensitive research that requires continued support during a disruption; preparing a plan to provide that support with limited staff, resources, and vendor provisions; and reviewing existing plans for continued care of sensitive research specimens.

Business continuity

This working group, led by Robin Elices, executive director of the Office of the Executive Vice President and Treasurer, will assess and evaluate MIT’s essential operational functions; determine strategies for maintaining critical campus utilities and infrastructure; and develop policies that enable employees to work remotely. The group will also discuss implications and procedures for union staff and plans for stockpiling supplies in the event of a supply chain disruption.

Medical response

MIT Medical Director Cecilia Stuopis is leading the effort to ensure a cohesive medical response for several different possible scenarios ranging from having patients under investigation to evidence of MIT community spread of the disease.

Student/Residential response

The student/residential response group is exploring a number of student life issues, including ways to guarantee that those living on campus have access to essentials such as campus dining services and student support and well-being programs.In the event of a partial or full campus closure, this group will develop plans for disruptions to student life programming, including restricting or cancelling student and athletic events and travel, developing means for food delivery on campus, refining guest policies for residential communities, considering quarantining options, and communicating regularly with key student life constituents as plans develop. Senior Associate Dean for Residential Life Judy Robinson will convene the group and work in concert with Vice President and Dean of Student Life Suzy Nelson. 

Communications response

Providing timely and accurate information is a critical component of MIT’s response to COVID-19. The communications group, which is being led by Alfred Ironside, vice president for communications, will create multipronged communications plans for different planning scenarios, and identify ways to bolster existing communications methods.

“The tremendous work these groups are doing aligns with our emergency management and business continuity strategic plan for MIT,” Blake notes. “COVID-19 has just put that plan on a fast track. We are grateful for all of the people at MIT who have set aside time to make this process work.”

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