1. Introduction

1.1 Purpose

The MBL Emergency Management Plan provides the organizational framework and management processes for responding to events that could threaten the safety and continuation of the MBL mission of research and education. 

The objectives of this Plan are to:

  1. Enable effective communication and coordination throughout the MBL in emergency planning, response, and recovery;
  2. Establish roles and responsibilities and an emergency management structure that is consistent with the National Response Framework and Incident Management System[1]; and
  3. Support risk management and mitigation through vulnerability analyses to reduce potential risk to safety or loss of property.

1.2 Scope

This document defines the overall emergency program for the MBL.  It is intended to cover a broad range of potential situations that could affect safety and the continuity of the education and research mission of the MBL.  It also establishes the management processes for responding to such events, including defining roles and responsibilities, activating and communicating with leaders, and organizing resources to address emergency conditions.

These include:

  • Natural hazards – Severe weather, earthquake, or other conditions over which the MBL has no control;
  • Infrastructure failure – Interruption of utilities or information technology services, building systems breakdown, environmental hazards, fire, or other facilities malfunctions;
  • Human factors – Medical emergencies, illness, and behavioral incidents.
  • Security incidents – Occurrences that potentially threaten personal safety or loss of physical and intellectual property;
  • External events – Community or regional incidents that occur beyond the limits of the MBL, and which could affect people and/or MBL facilities.

The MBL emergency program includes other detailed operational plans and procedures developed and maintained by various departments that are integrated under this Management Plan.  Together, these plans are an integral part of the MBL risk management program.  The process of planning and preparedness for emergency situations and experience in the management of incidents will help identify areas of potential exposure and identify opportunities for risk reduction and mitigation.


The MBL emergency program is a continuous cycle of mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. 

Mitigation identifies potential hazards and implements steps to reduce their probability of occurrence and impact.  Mitigation actions reduce exposure to risk and increase resilience and capacity for recovery in the event of a serious incident.

Preparedness builds the organizational and physical capabilities to enable effective responses to incidents.  This includes developing emergency operations plans and procedures and testing and exercising those plans.  

Response is the implementation of emergency operations plans to directly address the impact of an incident. 

Recovery is the restoration to normal functioning of the institution - physically, financially, and emotionally.

four phases of emergency management: preparedness, response, recovery, mitigation

These four phases represent the fundamental principles and operating philosophy of the MBL emergency management program.

2. Emergency Management Overview

Preparedness for potential emergencies or the disruption of normal activities is the responsibility of everyone who works or studies at the MBL.  It is therefore expected that every individual will take personal responsibility for his or her safety through compliance with MBL policies, following instructions provided by the leadership of the MBL, and staying informed through official MBL communications at all times.

2.1 Organizational Framework

Executive Oversight

Executive oversight of the MBL emergency program is the responsibility of the Chief Operating Officer.  The COO keeps the Director informed of any significant policy decisions that require their input and ensures that their strategic priorities are incorporated in the response.  The COO works closely with the senior IMT leadership to establish strategic priorities and overall policy decisions for the MBL, and for ensuring that the institution is prepared and capable of responding to all emergency situations. 

Incident Management Team

The primary responsibility for active direction and control during a serious emergency is with the Incident Management Team (IMT).  The IMT is a cross-departmental team of senior managers representing core functions that support the entire MBL organization. 

The IMT is also responsible for creating and maintaining the emergency management program and for establishing operational plans and protocols for specific emergency situations.  The fundamental purpose of the IMT is to coordinate and support the overall MBL response to any emergency situation, and to provide the Incident Command (ICS) structure for the MBL. 

The MBL Incident Management Team includes the following positions:

MBL Position

Primary IMT Responsibilities

Chief Operating Officer*

Coordination of the IMT and serves as primary ICS Incident Manager for campus operations emergencies. 

Director of the Division of Research

Oversight and coordination of all research programs of the MBL.  

Director of the Division of Education

Oversight and coordination of all educational programs of the MBL.  

Director of Facilities and Services*

Continuity of physical plant operations, security, and serves as ICS Logistics Chief. Also serves as MBL liaison to external Incident Command functions.

Director of Communications*

External communications.  Serves as ICS Public Information Officer for media coordination.

Director of Information Technology*

Continuity of operations for MBL networks and business applications.  Supports the Director of Communications and infrastructure for MBLAlert and MBL websites.

Director of Human Resources

Continuity of operations of all MBL Human Resource functions.  Manages MBL staff policies. 

Director of Finance

Continuity of operations of critical MBL business systems. Oversees and tracks incident expenditures and recovery of financial losses.  Serves as ICS Finance and Administration Officer.

Safety Manager

ICS Safety Officer during emergency conditions and continuity of EH&S services and regulatory compliance. Also serves as MBL representative to the Falmouth Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC)

Manager of Campus Security

Incident response.  Directs MBL security staff and coordinates with external emergency responders.  Operates emergency messaging systems.

MBL Veterinarian

Manages all activities necessary for the care and support for all research animals and ensures compliance with all animal care regulations.

Positions noted with an asterisk (*) are designated as the administrative working group of the IMT, which has responsibility for ensuring the continuity of functions of the IMT, including maintaining documentation planning meetings, training, and coordinating communication.

The structure of the IMT is also reflected in the following organization chart.

IMT org chart


Each position on the IMT has a designated alternate, who is expected to be able to fully function in the assigned role in the event that the primary member is unavailable or requires relief during an extended emergency situation.

Although members of the IMT represent specific areas of the MBL, in an emergency their responsibilities are not limited to those functions.  IMT members are expected to be adaptable and to fulfill role as necessary to support the best interests of the MBL.

Members of the IMT are also responsible for close coordination with leaders from the MBL research centers and other departments and for ensuring that all areas of the MBL are fully engaged in planning and responding to emergency situations. 

In addition to any campus-wide policies and operational procedures established by the IMT and EPG, all MBL departments, including research units, educational programs, the MBL/WHOI Library, and other administrative functions are expected to establish detailed plans and procedures to preserve and protect their specific missions and business processes.  Such plans and procedures are integral elements of the overall MBL emergency program.


Emergencies occur with varying levels of severity and are often dynamic events requiring rapid adjustments to changing conditions.  To be effectively managed, such situations must be considered with forward planning in terms of potential impact and related consequences. 

The definitions applied to the following emergency levels represent points along a continuum of increasing severity, and actual circumstances will determine the most appropriate responses required.  It should also be recognized that many incidents may initially appear minor but may rapidly evolve to a higher level of severity or broader impact on the MBL.

Category I - a relatively minor, localized department or building incident.

Category I emergencies are events that are quickly resolved with existing department resources or with limited outside assistance.  A Category I emergency has little impact on personnel or normal operations outside of the immediate area.  Such incidents generally do not require activation of the IMT, unless the situation becomes unstable or is subject to escalation. 

Management of Category I emergencies is the responsibility of the affected department with support from MBL resources (e.g. Plant Operations and Maintenance, Environmental Health & Safety.), as may be required.

Incidents that fall under this category may occur frequently and, although they may be minor in impact, represent opportunities to evaluate trends for risk reduction and mitigation.  The MBL Safety Department reviews all reported incidents and evaluates steps to mitigate recurrence including identifying possible patterns or vulnerabilities.   Incidents are summarized quarterly to the MBL Safety Committee and as appropriate briefed to the IMT.

Examples: localized and contained major chemical or oil spill; building system failure; major water leak or flooding or limited utility outage.

Category II - a serious situation that potentially affects the continued operation of one or more buildings, a safety or security incident, or an event that creates significant internal or external public relations concerns or media attention.

Category II incidents require immediate notification of the IMT.  Initial response to the incident will be through established procedures and ongoing direction will be coordinated by the IMT through an Incident Action Plan.

The IMT will notify the Director in a timely manner regarding the nature and severity of the incident, actions being taken, and any anticipated consequences.

Examples: Fire, bomb threat, or major chemical spill requiring a building evacuation or public agency response; severe flooding, extended electric power or other utility outage; outbreak of illness; IT security breach; death or serious injury; or severe weather conditions that may affect personnel or operations.

Category III - A disaster with severe impact on the MBL and/or the surrounding community.

Category III incidents threaten normal operations of the MBL.   In such cases, the emergency may be wide-ranging, complex, and regional in impact. 

In the event of a major community or region-wide emergency, the Town of Falmouth may activate its EmergencyOperationsCenter and may assume control of the areas affected.  State and federal authorities may also be activated to provide direction and support.  Successful response during such conditions requires effective management by the MBL and extensive coordination with government and other private agencies. 

The IMT is responsible for managing the MBL response and will work closely with the Director to ensure effective decision-making, coordination, and timely information sharing with public agencies, the University of Chicago, and other MBL stakeholders.    

Examples: Civil unrest; severe flooding; mass evacuation; government-declared state of emergency; pandemic illness; acts of war or terrorism.

2.3 Management Planning and Preparation

The Incident Management Team is responsible for leading the emergency preparedness effort for the MBL.  This includes preparing specific operating procedures and protocols for use in the event of an emergency situation.  Appendix A lists current supporting plans and procedures.

The IMT will convene on a regular basis to share information and experience, jointly develop and review operating procedures, and conduct training and exercises.  The IMT will also meet promptly following any serious incident to debrief and conduct a post-incident review (Section 7).

3. Incident Reporting and Response


Any emergency situation requiring immediate response (Police, Fire or Emergency Medical Services) must first be reported by calling Falmouth Emergency Services at (9)911.

3.1  Notification Protocol

The MBL Security Office is the primary location for receiving information from the MBL community about emergency situations on the MBL campus.  The Security Office is located in the SwopeBuilding and attended at all times (24 hours, seven days per week). 

For any situation requiring assistance or to report an incident, the Security Office should be notified immediately by calling 508-289-7911 (7911 within the MBL telephone system).

  • In the event of a report of a fire, medical or public safety emergency, the Security Office will first notify Falmouth Emergency Management (911), if not previously done.  
  • For all on-campus emergency incidents, the Security Office will immediately communicate with both the Director and Assistant Director of Facilitiesfor immediate investigation and response.  If unavailable, the Security Officers will respond to the scene of the incident and take appropriate action in accordance with established procedures, including supporting any Falmouth (Police, Fire, Medical) emergency responders.
  • For Category II or IIIemergencies, or a Category I emergency situation that appears to be unstable or may potentially escalate, the Security Office will immediately notify the Director of Facilities and Services.  The Director of Facilities will review available information and gather additional facts concerning the situation, develop an initial Incident Action Plan and, contact the Chief Operating Officer.  If the Director of Facilities (or his/her designee) is unavailable, the Security Office will notify the Chief Operating Officer directly.  If the Chief Operating Officer is unavailable, the IMT will be notified and convened by teleconference using MBLAlert.

3.2 Emerging Situations

Certain conditions, such as weather, security and public health advisories, may provide early indications that will allow the MBL to mobilize and implement a planned and organized response.  Any member of the Incident Management Team becoming aware of a developing situation that could become a Category II or III event will promptly advise other IMT members.  The IMT will convene to review available information and develop an Incident Action Plan (Section 4.3). 

4. Management During an Emergency Condition

4.1 Activation of the Incident Management Team

When notified of an emergency situation, the MBL Chief Operating Officer will immediately review available information with on-scene staff and make an initial determination of the severity and potential implications of the incident or evolving threat. 

Should conditions warrant, the Incident Management Team will be activated by through the MBLAlert system.  Following notification, members of the IMT will promptly convene either by conference call or in person to assess the situation and develop an Incident Action Plan to respond to the incident. 

4.2 Emergency Communication

The MBL uses multiple channels for communicating emergency information to the campus community:


The MBL has implemented an automated, high speed emergency notification system (MBLAlert) that uses multiple channels (phone, voicemail, text, and email) to contact members of the MBL community with critical information.  In addition to community-wide messaging, the MBLAlert system will be configured to be used by specific groups, including the, IMT and department response teams, as the primary means of rapid notification in the event of an emergency situation.

Digital Signage

The MBL Communications Office and Information Technology Department operates public display monitors placed at strategic locations across the campus.  The monitors are normally used as a means of providing useful information to the MBL community and can be updated through on-line access. 

In the event of an emergency, these digital signs will be used to convey urgent information and instructions to the community.

Emergency Web Page

Additional public information is made available through www.mbl.edu/emergency.  During non-emergency conditions this web page provides useful reference information to the community about emergency preparedness, including various reference documents and emergency procedures.

In the case of a major emergency event, the emergency web page may be used by the IMT to provide updates and emergency instructions to the MBL community.

Voice Mail Broadcast and Recorded Messages

The MBL telephone system has the capability for recording and distributing important messages to all campus telephone system voicemail accounts.  In the event of an emergency, the IMT may use the broadcast system to relay important information to the campus community.

Town of Falmouth - FalmouthAlertFalmouthAlert is an emergency notification service operated by the Town of Falmouth through which public safety officials can notify residents and businesses by telephone, or cellular phone about emergency situations.  Services requires individuals to signup online on the Town of Falmouth Emergency Alert page.

The MBL receives calls from FalmouthAlert through the MBL Security Office.  Should an emergency be reported by the Town of Falmouth, critical information will be relayed by MBL Security through other MBL emergency communication channels.

4.3 Incident Action Plan

An Incident Action Plan is intended to ensure a coordinated response and to establish clear and specific measures to be taken by members of the IMT and others in response to an emergency condition. 

The level of formality of the Incident Action Plan will vary depending on the nature and expected duration of the situation.  Documentation of IMT plans and actions is especially important during serious and complex incidents to provide valuable information during the recovery phase, as well as for post-incident reviews and future mitigation planning.

The Incident Action Plan will establish and identify (as required):

  • Roles and responsibilities of members of the IMT and others, including establishing the Incident Command structure;
  • Immediate operational objectives and projected outcomes;
  • Internal and external communications;
  • Required resources and logistics;
  • Health and safety issues and response actions;
  • Anticipated policy or major risks potentially requiring action by the COO; and
  • Processes for updates and action plan adjustments

The process of developing and continually revising the Incident Action Plan will be fluid, and it is expected that the Plan will be updated frequently as the emergency situation evolves. 

4.4 Coordination with Public Authorities

In situations where a public authority (Police, Fire/Medical, National Guard, or other agency) assumes control during a major incident, the Director of Facilities and Services will be designated as the MBL Emergency Coordinator liaison to the public authority Incident Commander.  The MBL Emergency Coordinator will represent the MBL with the Incident Commander of the authority having jurisdiction of the incident.  At the time of withdrawal of the public authority, the Incident Command function and responsibilities will formally transfer to the MBL Incident Manager and the IMT.

4.5 Emergency Operations Center

In the event of a serious incident requiring activation of the IMT, the primary MBL Emergency Operations Center (EOC) will be established in Lillie 103.  This conference room is equipped with a dedicated Verizon telephone line (508-457-6334) independent of the MBL telephone system, internet access, video conferencing, a weather station, cable television, and backup power from the Lillie emergency generator.  The Lillie building also provides a strategic location from which much of the MBL campus can be observed from a sheltered environment.

In the event that Lillie 103 is not accessible or available, the on-campus backup location for the MBL EOC will be Starr 209.  This is an open classroom space located in the interior of the building.  It has network connections, whiteboards, projection equipment and is also backed up by emergency power. 

In the event that the MBL Woods Hole campus is not accessible, or must be evacuated due to a large scale disaster, the MBL EOC will be established off-site at the MBL facility at the FalmouthTechnology Park.

The designated EOC will be the physical meeting location for the Incident Management Team and the coordination point for active direction and control.  For IMT members who are not on-site, participation in IMT meetings will be through a dedicated telephone conference bridge and/or video conference (if available).  The private phone number and passcode for the conference bridge is provided to the IMT through the MBLAlert system, emergency contact wallet cards, and through meeting announcements. 

4.6 Coordination between the Incident Management Team and the Emergency Policy Group

The IMT has primary responsibility for incident management and coordination of all MBL responses.  In the event of a Category II or III incident, the Incident Manager will ensure that the Director is appropriately informed about the situation and regularly updated as circumstances change. 

The COO and Director are responsible for providing strategic direction and major policy decisions to ensure effective and coordinated management responses to major incidents. 

Examples of policy responsibilities  include:

  • Decisions to curtail events and activities, or to close and evacuate the MBL campus;
  • Executive level communication with the University of Chicago (as appropriate);
  • Ensuring sufficient financial resources to enable effective emergency response, prompt recovery and restoration of physical facilities, infrastructure, and operations;
  • Authorizing emergency expenditures above existing approved budgets and spending limits;
  • Approving and providing critical communications with key stakeholders of the MBL.

5. Management of Disaster Recovery

Restoring the MBL and returning to normal operations as quickly and efficiently as possible is a critical element in the emergency management program.  An incident that disrupts normal activities may require:

  • Repairing and restoring any damaged MBL facilities and reopening buildings;
  • Recovering vital records and resuming normal business functions and processes; 
  • Restoring laboratories and research activities and recovering data;
  • Assisting with emotional and psychological recovery of MBL staff and students following a disaster or security-related incident;
  • Ensuring that the reputation of the MBL is preserved in the aftermath of a disaster; and
  • Recovering financial losses incurred by the MBL as a result of an incident.

As an incident progresses from response to recovery, the IMT Action Plan will shift to identify the steps necessary to ensure a comprehensive recovery and expeditious return to normal.  Depending on the nature and severity of the incident, some aspects of the recovery phase may occur over an extended period and may require resources outside of the MBL. 

The MBL maintains a contract with Agility Recovery Services for disaster response services.  Upon notification by the IMT, Agility will mobilize to provide the MBL with temporary recovery of office space, electric power, communications and computer systems.  The Director of Information Technology is the IMT coordinator and maintains the MBL Recovery Profile with Agility to ensure an efficient and rapid response.

In addition to internal staff, the MBL relies on outside vendors for many vital services.  The IMT will work closely with service providers through all phases of the emergency management process to ensure that they are properly prepared and capable of restoring essential services or to the MBL.  Other service providers may be required to provide support for repairs or temporary operations support.  The IMT will periodically review the status of these vendor relationships and, to the extent possible, preplan recovery actions early in the incident response.

In the event of a large scale disaster affecting the region, it is likely that the Town of Falmouth, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and/or the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will deploy resources to assist with response and recovery.  The IMT will establish communication with such agencies as early as possible in the response stage to identify critical needs for the MBL and determine distribution points for any available necessities to meet health, safety, and lifesaving requirements.

6. Documentation and Records Management

It is essential that the MBL maintain thorough records of Incident Action Plans, actions taken, expenditures, commitments, and observations throughout the response and recovery phases, especially during major incidents. 

Organized records and documentation are critical to the recovery of financial losses and will be valuable in conducting post-incident reviews and refining operational plans. 

The IMT will develop appropriate documentation procedures to be included as part of the Incident Action Plan and will assign roles and responsibilities to ensure that records are properly organized and retained.  Documentation should also include photographic and video records of conditions throughout the incident.  

7. Post-Incident Review and Plan Maintenance

It is essential that post-incident reviews be conducted following major incidents and exercises so that the effectiveness of the MBL emergency response and recovery can be evaluated and any open issues resolved.  In addition, information gathered during the review process will be included in mitigation plans to reduce the potential for recurrence or severity of future impacts.

The IMT will conduct a formal review of the emergency management program periodically and make updates to plans and procedures as needed.  Changes in organization, policies and procedures, improvements in emergency management concepts and technology, and government regulations and legislation will be reflected in the Emergency Management Plan and its supporting documents. 

Cross-functional management and team development with clear leadership are stated objectives of the MBL emergency management program.  To that end, the IMT will hold regular meetings to develop plans and protocols and review experiences from recent incidents. 

IMT members will be responsible for educating colleagues and staff members in each of their functional areas about their responsibilities and procedures.  At least once per year, the IMT will conduct an exercise to simulate a Category II or III incident, which may also include representatives from public emergency management agencies.

[1] The National Response Framework (NRF), National Incident Management System (NIMS), and the Incident Command System (ICS) are established and standardized processes for emergency management used widely across the United States by federal, state, and local emergency responders, as well as the private sector.  More information is available at: http://www.fema.gov/national-incident-management-system.