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IU emergency operations team works in underground office to inform on coronavirus



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Representatives from different IU campuses work on their computers March 11 in the Emergency Operation Center below the Public Safety and Institutional Assurance building. Personnel spent the day analyzing information coming in about the coronavirus. Payton Romans

Questions about the coronavirus have taken over IU, but people at the IU Emergency Operations Center are trying to answer them efficiently. In an underground office at the Public Safety and Institutional Assurance building, personnel work closely to quickly answer the public's questions and create action plans.

The center, which opened in 2013, has dealt with emergencies before the coronavirus, including the mold outbreak in 2018 and the more recent floods and power outages affecting campus in 2019. But a new team was created in mid-January for the coronavirus.

The emergency center is filled with representatives from all IU campuses working to respond to the newest updates on the virus. The team created a website for news about new cases, public safety advisories and IU’s latest plans. They also created the IU Traveler Information Form, which they are asking IU students and staff to fill out if they are traveling out of the country over spring break.

The team started monitoring the virus when in mid-January. Now, there are more than 125,000 worldwide. Brad Seifers, IU director for emergency management and continuity, was tasked with becoming an expert on the virus soon after the creation of the specific coronavirus team.

“I study it all day, everyday,” Seifers said. “I have done nothing but study all of the research that has been coming in from around the globe.”

With information constantly changing , the emergency center informs the public through IU Public Safety Advisory emails, which get sent to the IU community. These emails are created in the office and discussed by a wide range of councils, including representatives from different IU campuses, international programs, the Office of Overseas Study, Division of Student Affairs and the emergency management staff.

“The more information we push out the better," Seifers said. "Our job is to keep the community safe, and to keep you safe we have to keep you informed.”

IU Assistant Director of Strategic Communications Amanda Roach spends her days in the center helping the team of representatives. Her responsibilities include drafting the public safety advisories and creating and managing the content on IU's COVID-19 website. She said the center speeds up the communication process between the team.

“It’s honestly really helpful because we basically have all the people in one room that you need to talk to,” she said.

This room is underground at the Public Saftey and Institutional Assurance building on East Second Street. It has screens that display the Indiana State Department of Health website and a constant news channel for breaking updates.

“It looks like a place where you’d launch nuclear codes,” IU spokesperson Chuck Carney said. “It’s essentially kind of a bunker.”

The coronavirus response team started in January and consisted of just an emergency management and a public health expert and a couple of people with IU Environmental Health and Safety. They studied the virus and the university’s plans for response. The team grew after the virus began to spread more rapidly. More teams were created such as IU Purchasing, which is working to prevent any campus shortages on necessary supplies.

“We’re coming together as a team on this and are making sure the concerns of the university as a whole are addressed, while also paying attention to specific concerns,” said Ryan Chandler, IU-Purdue University Indianapolis assistant director for emergency management and continuity.

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