Updated: September 25, 2014

Emergency Response & Evacuation

For more information, review the procedures established for emergency response and evacuation at Duke.


Planning for the continuity of instruction, student activities, research, and patient care at Duke University in response to an emergency is a complex task. This Emergency Management Plan documents the framework, processes, and communications required for a successful response and recovery from an emergency incident.

A. Purpose

The purpose of the Emergency Management Plan is to:

  • Help prepare Duke employees to respond successfully to an emergency situation;
  • Define clear roles, responsibilities, and authorities for those involved in managing emergencies;
  • Ensure that consequences of emergencies are adequately and expediently assessed from an internal and external perspective;
  • Have a clear, rapid, factual and coordinated system of internal and external communication in emergency situations;
  • Have effective coordination between the emergency management organizations of the university, the health system, and local, state, and federal authorities;
  • Promote a culture throughout the university and the health system that both enables effective response in an emergency and helps prevent them through an open exchange of information about potential emergencies.

B. Scope

The plan provides those working at the University with a methodology and a protocol for managing:

  • Emergency incidents in Duke University facilities in Durham, North Carolina and in other Duke offices and departments in locations around the world;
  • Emergency incidents that primarily impact the University (includes the School of Medicine and School of Nursing). Duke University Health System operates under a separate emergency plan, but the University and the Health System work collaboratively to provide support services during times of emergency;
  • Emergency conditions at non-Duke owned or operated locations that affect members of the Duke community;
  • A situation that could affect the reputation of Duke University;
  • A technical event that interrupts Duke’s ability to maintain normal operations and support academic, student life, research or patient care activities;
  • An event that significantly affects students, faculty, staff, visitors, or Board of Trustee members.


A. Emergency Levels

The Duke University Emergency Management Plan operates on three levels:

  • Level 3 – incidents that have limited impact on the university and can be managed through routine protocols and procedures within a department or center of activity (e.g., school, unit, or facility)
  • Level 2 – incidents that have the potential to have broader impact or that require cooperation among units to effectively manage and resolve them and that require adaptation of routine procedures
  • Level 1 – incidents that present substantial risks to the community or the university’s resources and reputation

B. Management Structure

Duke University has a tiered emergency response structure that encourages local management of incidents and coordinated communication involving senior leadership. The plan enables management of a broad range of emergencies, from small to complex incidents. Many factors determine the complexity of an incident, including, but not limited to, area involved, threat to life and property, political sensitivity, organizational complexity, jurisdictional boundaries, values at risk, weather, strategy and tactics, and agency policy. Incident complexity is considered when making incident management level, staffing, and safety decisions.

The tiered structure for Duke’s Emergency Management Plan allows for modular organization based on the size and scope of the incident, as well as specifics of the hazard environment created by the incident. The organization can be expanded easily from a very small size for routine operations to a larger organization capable of handling catastrophic events.

Figure 1: Emergency Management Structure
Figure 1: Emergency Management Structure

Emergency Coordinator (EC): is appointed by the President and is responsible for assessing incidents and elevating them, when necessary, to a higher level of management. Members of the Emergency Management Team are trained to bring incidents to the attention of the EC when there is the possibility of an incident requiring coordination at a higher level.

The EC is responsible for convening the Initial Assessment Team (IAT) to assess and grade incidents as level 1, 2 or 3. The EC then coordinates with the Emergency Management Team to respond to inciddents in consultation with the Emergency Leadership Team (EMT).

The Vice President for Administration serves as EC, and the Assistant Vice President for Communication Services serves as the backup EC.

Emergency Leadership Team (ELT): makes policy and major strategic and resources decisions. During all levels the Vice President and University secretary serves as liaison between the Emergency Coordinator and University Leadership. Chaired by the President (or in his absence, the Executive Vice President), the University leadership consists of the following:

  • President
  • Chancellor for Health Affairs
  • Executive Vice President
  • Provost
  • Vice President and University Counsel
  • Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations
  • Vice President and University Secretary
  • Others as necessary depending on the nature of the emergency

Emergency Management Steering Committee (EMSC): includes key administrative, academic and research areas who meet regularly to review procedures and practices; organize drills; anticipate issues or practices that might lead to an incident; and ensure that Duke’s emergency management plan stays current and effective. The team’s responsibilities include:

  • Implement policies and decisions and coordinate response to emergency situations;
  • Provide for the well-being of recovery personnel;
  • Ensure teams are carrying out responsibilities;
  • Make recovery decisions based on any documented recovery priorities and communicate to the recovery teams;
  • Recommend how these priorities can be achieved, and which may need to be revised;
  • Assist in assigning the appropriate tasks needed to achieve strategic recovery goals and objectives;
  • Ensure critical vendors, regulatory bodies, and other identified key stakeholders are notified of the situation in a timely manner;
  • Assist in determining the number of personnel available to assist in the recovery and how many are necessary;
  • Maintain and monitor the recovery schedule;
  • Coordinate local recovery efforts and restore the affected facility back to “business as usual.”

Initial Assessment Team (IAT): is a subset of the EMSC that provides the initial evaluation of an incident. Individual members will be called upon based on the type, scope and complexity of an incident. Members of the team include:

  • Emergency Coordinator (EC)
  • Chief of Police
  • AVP for Communication Services
  • Vice President for Student Affairs
  • Vice President for Facilities
  • Assistant Chief Information Officer
  • Director of Occupational and Environmental Safety Office
  • Director of the Duke Preparedness and Response Center
  • Others as necessary
Figure 2: Initial Assessment Team (weather event)
Figure 2: Initial Assessment Team (weather event)

Departmental Operations Team (DOT): local department or unit-based teams that are responsible for managing level 3 incidents and coordinating with the EC in level 1 and 2 incidents. The Department Operations Teams are managed by DOT Coordinators, who serve as members of the Emergency Management Team.

The DOT has the following responsibilities:

  • Take responsibility for department preparedness, response, and recovery planning and training;
  • Maintain database of buildings, occupants, and contact persons;
  • Prepare a written DOT Emergency Plan that includes communication plans and procedures to members of the department;
  • Identify a primary and alternate Department Operations Center (DOC) for emergency response;
  • Designate key personnel for primary emergency roles:
    • A DOT Coordinator to develop the DOT Emergency Plan and represent the department on the Emergency Management Team (EMT)
    • A Response Team to assist with building evacuations
    • An Information Coordinator to interface with the Public Information Officer
  • Participate in campus EMT workshops and exercises.

In addition, during incidents, the DOT has these additional responsibilities:

  • Account for staff, faculty, students and others in the department;
  • Provide initial damage assessment to EC;
  • Disseminate emergency instructions to constituents;
  • Communicate initial and on-going status to EC;
  • Coordinate local recovery efforts and restore the affected facility back to “business as usual,” under direction of the EC.

Each DOT should have a Department Operations Center (DOC) location (and at least one alternate location) for the team to use during the management of an incident. This may be a conference room or large office.

Emergency Management Team: consists of all members of the Emergency Management Steering Committee, DOT Coordinators and others designated by the EC as key to the Emergency Management effort at Duke. The group meets at least once a semester to review key developments in emergency management at Duke and to discuss current issues in emergency management.

Incident Command System (ICS)

The Emergency Management Team (EMT) will employ the Incident Command System (ICS) as the model for organization and communication flow. ICS is the operating methodology for federal/state/local agencies and is part of the National Response Plan (NRP) and National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS). The structure for the ICS at Duke uses the model’s modular organization structure, which is based on the size and complexity of the incident, as well as the specifics of the hazard environment created.

A key principle of the ICS is its flexibility. The modular organization can be expanded easily from a very small size for routine operations to a larger organization capable of handling catastrophic events. During level 1 incidents of significant complexity, scope and/or duration, the EMT will expand to organize into five major functional areas: Facilities/Operations, Logistics, Police/Safety, Students/Academics, and Finance/Administration.

Figure 3: Incident Command System Structure
Figure 3: Incident Command System Structure

Emergency Operations Center (EOC): the command center for the Emergency Management Team. In level 1 activations, it is located in the RENCI/Telcom building. In level 2 activations, it is located in a convenient conference room. In level 2 and 3 activations, the EMT may also meet via conference call using the Emergency Management conference bridge number.

In the event that the primary EOC is unavailable in a level 1 activation, the backup location at Duke Regional Hospital will be used.

C. Testing and Exercises

As part of its emergency preparedness plans, Duke will test the DukeALERT mass notification system at least once during the fall and spring semester and once during the summer session. In addition to testing the notification systems, the tests help Duke community members become more familiar with how they will be notified in an emergency and what they should do in response.

Duke Emergency Management Team also participates in regular exercises to walk through specific scenarios to provide practical experience to those with emergency management responsibilities for managing different issues.

D. Delegation of Authority

Policy decisions during emergencies are made by members of the Emergency Leadership Team. In the event certain senior officers are traveling or not accessible, the following delegation of authority has been established.

Duke University:

  1. If the President were unable to perform his/her duties, who would assume his/her responsibilities?
    • Executive Vice President
  2. If the Executive Vice President were unable to perform his/her duties, who would assume his/her responsibilities?
    • Provost
  3. If the President, Executive Vice President and Provost were simultaneously unable to perform their duties, who would perform their responsibilities?
    • Vice President for Administration
  4. If the Provost were unable to perform his/her duties, who would assume his/her responsibilities?
    • Executive Vice Provost for Finance & Administration

Duke Medicine:

  1. If the Executive Vice President for Duke University Health System were unable to perform his/her duties, who would assume his/her responsibilities?
    • Chief Medical Officer for Duke University Health System
  2. If the Chief Medical Officer for Duke University Health System were unable to perform his/her duties, who would assume his/her responsibilities?
    • Duke University Hospital President
  3. If the Dean for the School of Medicine were unable to perform his/her duties, who would assume his/her responsibilities?
    • Executive Vice Dean for Administration
  4. If there were a catastrophic event in Singapore and the Duke-NUS Dean was unable to perform his/her duties, who would assume his/her responsibilities?
    • Senior Vice Dean for Research at Duke-NUS


Emergencies are reported through the usual reporting structure. Events that are likely to cause an activation of the plan will be made known to Duke Police, Facilities, or OIT and representatives in those areas will then notify the Emergency Coordinator to initiate the assessment process.

The Duke Police dispatch is staffed 24×7. This procedure allows faculty/staff/students to have a single contact point to report an emergency.

  1. In the event of an emergency, a manager from the impacted location must call the Duke Police Control Center by using the Duke Police number (911 from a campus phone or 919-684-2444 from any mobile phone or off-campus phone).
  2. The Control Center will ask for the following information:
    • Caller’s name
    • Contact telephone number
    • Alternate telephone number
    • Event date and time
    • Event location
    • Short description of the event
    • How the caller become aware of the event
  3. The Control Center will then contact the Police Chief who will notify the Emergency Coordinator.
  4. The Emergency Coordinator and the Initial Assessment Team will convene in person or by telephone to receive a briefing.

The types of incidents that must be reported should include any serious event (Level 1 or 2) that has the potential to or results in an office closure or potential danger/injury to faculty/staff/students, visitors, and/or the potential for disruption to normal operations.