Chancellor's Recent Speeches

Remarks by Charles B. Reed
Chancellor, California State University
CSU’s “Fitting The Pieces Together” Conference
8:30 a.m., Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Hilton Orange County, Costa Mesa, CA

Thank you, Charlene (Minnick).

You and I have been joined together at the hip lately – or at least at the ear by telephone – because of the wildfires.

I want to personally thank you for all that you did to keep me informed about the situations at the campuses, and for coordinating the system effort.

You get an “atta-girl” for all your work.

I want to update everyone on a few issues including the recent fires, the activation of our campus emergency centers, how our disaster planning is working, and how our loss trend in workers compensation is continuing its downward trend.

Overall, things look quite good in all these areas.

First, the wildfires.

“Fitting the Pieces Together,” which is the title of this conference, is appropriate for a few reasons. The main one pertains to the recent experience the California State University had with the devastating wildfires.

If you remember back to 2003 during the last big round of fires, we were not prepared as well as we should have been for what happened.

This time around, we “fit the pieces together” and were much better prepared.

Three of our campuses closed for several days each because the fires were right near them, or the smoke, ash and air were unhealthy for students and employees.

Safety and health reasons were foremost in the minds of the campuses as they made their decisions to stay open or to close.

The closed campuses were San Bernardino, San Diego and San Marcos. Both Northridge and Channel Islands were on “watch” status, but they did not need to close.

I want to commend these campuses for having strong emergency plans, and most of all, for following those plans. It is one thing to have a plan sitting on a shelf – it is another to actually put it into action.

Our campuses did just that – they went into action quickly, and we did not have any loss of life, and for that we are incredibly thankful.

The key to all of this is a simple concept but often one that is ignored. That concept is preparedness.

It does no good whatsoever to have a plan, but never test it out, never practice it. These campuses practiced their plans and it showed in the results.

Just this past June the presidents participated with James Lee Witt in a half-day emergency planning session, and it paid off. They got it.

The background to that session is important.

Even before 9/11, I was worried about our level of preparation for all kinds of emergencies. Safety is one of those issues that is never far from my mind.

It is always on my radar - especially when we operate the largest system of higher education in the country and have 450,000 students and 46,000 employees to think about.

In January 2001 – eight months before 9/11 - I asked James Lee Witt Associates to come to the CSU and assist us in preparing for emergencies.

James Lee had been the head of FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) during the Clinton administration, and had supervised the response to the Red River Flood in North Dakota and Minnesota, the most costly flood in the nation's history at that time.

He also worked on the most costly earthquake, which was at Cal State Northridge, and on Hurricane Andrew, which was the most costly hurricane before Katrina.

That was where I got to know him well, in Florida when Andrew hit.

I asked him to develop five vulnerability assessments that could impact our campuses, which he did.

Those scenarios were:

  • Earthquake in Southern California
  • Earthquake in Northern California
  • Flooding in Sacramento
  • Fire in Humboldt
  • And terrorism at San Francisco State.

James Lee came to the Presidents’ Executive Council meeting and talked about what he would do for us.

I remember at that time seeing presidents who didn’t take this all as serious as they should have.

People sometimes give lip service to emergency preparedness, but frankly do not take it seriously, thinking that “it won’t happen to me or my campus.”

Well, we all know different – things happen.

When 9/11 hit, we had already practiced a terrorism exercise at San Francisco State. I looked like a hero to the Board of Trustees that we had a terrorism plan.

So our June session at the presidents’ retreat was particularly timely. James and his colleague, Mark Ghilarducci from their Sacramento office, focused on crisis communications.

They also focused on the need for us to continue practicing our plans and doing mock exercises tied to those plans.

When the fires started threatening our campuses, our people went into action. They activated their Emergency Operations Centers (EOC), and from all reports that I received, the operations went extremely well on all the campuses.

Congratulations to all the campus EOC teams for your execution of our disaster plans.

Mark commented in a Washington Post article that FEMA had taken a page from James Lee’s book by responding better to the California fires than they did to Hurricane Katrina.

Charlene and I began our series of 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. phone calls on Monday, October 22, the day after the fires started on Sunday.

We updated each other on what was occurring or not occurring.

People who know me know that I want to know everything that is going on, even if you may not consider it important. Every little piece of information, like those puzzle pieces, fits together into the bigger solution to the problem.

The Office of the Chancellor is a resource to the campuses, so we need to know everything so we can be of better help. After all, we are responsible, and when it goes wrong, it is my fault. It is on my watch.

Part of what we have learned in these situations and from James Lee Witt is the critical importance of communication during a crisis.

There are three communications strands that are crucial:

  1. Internally on the campus to students and employees.
  2. Externally from the campus to the Chancellor’s Office.
  3. Additional external communication from the campus to its surrounding local governments, its mutual aid partners, so that the campus is part of the mix and not isolated from needed services.

All of those communications worked well, and I attribute that again to preparation. The more you prepare for these events, the better off we all will be.

It won’t ever be perfect, and something will always come up that is unexpected. But if you have prepared well, then the time spent doing that will pay off.

The CSU campuses were prepared with (1) buses to evacuate students and employees. We had a (2) standardized emergency identification system for the Chancellor’s Office and the campuses so we could communicate about roadblocks, among other things. And (3) the presidents and other key personnel had satellite phones.

Let me tell you a little story about those satellite phones. I remember when I first told the presidents that they all had to have them.

It was like when I talked the first time about emergency preparedness. Many didn’t like having to carry them, especially since those first models were pretty bulky.

And in fact, when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf States, the CSU had more satellite phones than did all of Louisiana, and they really could have used them there.

James Lee Witt told the Governor’s Office in Louisiana that story.

But now, we have at least four per campus, and many campuses have placed orders for more phones.

They know how important they are in communicating during a crisis.

Landlines go down, cell phones don’t always work, so those satellite phones are the most reliable.

I am telling you all this because I want everyone to know that having a plan, practicing that plan, and then executing it are the only ways that we can deal with emergencies.

Doing “on the fly,” or “off the top of our heads” doesn’t work when things are chaotic. Ordering satellite phones when it is too late also does not work.

Let me read a few sentences from an email from Regina Frasca, the Director of Risk Management & Safety, at Cal State San Marcos, that she sent to Charlene and others:

“Our facilities did not suffer as much as we expected and this was due to many variables. We experienced an awesome EOC that operated wonderfully. We also had Facility and Plant engineers that locked down the buildings that prevented a majority of smoke damage. Their work was extraordinary. As of today, our buildings’ air quality is almost pristine.”

You can’t ask for much better than that. Sticking with the plan is what works. That’s what being prepared means.

For example, the earthquake last week in San Jose: Books fell off the library shelves, but there was no damage, but we were prepared.

Before I turn to the next topic, I also want to congratulate our Cal Poly San Luis Obispo students and faculty for receiving federal approval for a state disaster-planning document.

“The 2007 California Multi- Hazard Mitigation Plan” promotes strategies and actions that can be applied throughout California to help reduce the harm caused by disasters.

FEMA requires the state to update its plan every three years, and uses the document to allocate federal dollars in disaster situations.

Last November, the team from Cal Poly’s city and regional planning department won a $763,000 contract from the state’s Office of Emergency Services to complete the study.

It includes a vast compilation of state planning on how to deal with floods, fires, earthquakes and other disasters.

Ken Topping, a Cal Poly lecturer who has extensive training and experience in disaster mitigation and recovery, especially following fires and earthquakes, was the project manager.

The document addresses risks and vulnerabilities from primary California hazards of earthquakes, floods and wildfires, along with other risks arising from climate change — such as severe storms, heat, drought and changes in sea-level, from events such as tsunamis, landslides and levee failures.

This contract is another example of how the CSU positively impacts the state of California in ways that you might not even think about.

Homeland Security:

Let me turn now to the related topic of Homeland Security.

We have received at least $20,000 per campus per year for the last four years for public safety equipment, and the last two years for interpretation communications. Those funds are being put to good use.

We also continue to have James Lee Witt Associates on retainer.

They have just finished their review of campus pandemic plans and they have a session at this conference to discuss results and what our next steps are. That will be an important session.

Risk Pool Rates and Workers’ Compensation:

The final issue that I want to bring up today is that our risk pool rates have gone down, and our workers’ comp costs have gone down.

The reason is that we have implemented good loss-control and loss-prevention plans. We used to pay about $29 million per year four years ago, and we are at about $20 million now. Still high, but much better.

In fact, we have returned about $15 million to the campuses because we have gotten better at these prevention plans.

We either settle the claims quickly or we get our employees back to work faster.

That is another good example of creating good plans and sticking to them.

In summary:

Let me finish talking and take your questions – this way I can hear from you about what is working well in your areas and on your campuses, or where we can make improvements before the next crisis.

And it will happen, believe me.
But the time and effort we have spent with presidents and campus emergency coordinators and others have paid off.

I look forward to hearing from Charlene about the “after-actions reports” from the campuses to hear more of the details.

These will be important for our future planning. There will always be more pieces to fit together for a better plan.

Thank you, and let’s get to the questions.