UC Berkeley, city officials discuss protocols for emergency response at Berkeley Forum

The Berkeley Forum hosted a panel Monday where city and campus officials spoke about various recent states of emergency, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, poor air quality and power outages.

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Directing emergency responses to the COVID-19 pandemic has been both a challenge and a learning opportunity, according to city and campus officials who spoke at a Berkeley Forum panel Monday.

Campus sophomore Noah Oppenheimer moderated the panel, which focused on insights from campus administrators and city staff on various recent states of emergency, including the pandemic, power outages and poor air quality.

“We’ve never had multiple crises happen at once like we’re experiencing now, with COVID plus wildfires plus the looming specter of power outages,” said Guy Nicolette, panelist and assistant vice chancellor of University Health Services, during the event.

All four panelists stressed the importance of planning when responding to the pandemic. According to panelist and UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, this often involved “all-day, everyday” meetings with campus leadership and chancellors from other UC campuses.

Panelist and UC Berkeley Vice Chancellor for Administration Marc Fisher added that the planning by the Task Force on Instructional Resilience, which was commissioned after the power outages in fall 2019, benefited campus when it quickly had to transition to fully online instruction in March.

“Planning is invaluable,” Nicolette said during the event. “Operationalizing that plan is very difficult, but we’re learning a lot.”

The panelists also discussed their focuses on improving communication, during which Christ said campus plans on using Reddit to continue outreach to students. She added that campus is also potentially implementing a “Tea with the Chancellor” fireside chatlike series.

In the city of Berkeley, signage, town halls and listening sessions with businesses have been an important part of the city’s communication strategies, according to Lisa Warhuus, city director of the Health, Housing and Community Services department. She added that the city is working to build its communication infrastructure further.

“We need to communicate more and more and better and better,” Warhuus said during the event. “Not really having that broader communication is a risk when people are afraid and they don’t know what’s happening and they need information about how they can be safe in society.”

Throughout the pandemic, the city of Berkeley and campus have been working closely on pandemic response, students’ return to campus and expansion of testing strategies, among other aspects of emergency response.

Warhuus added that the city of Berkeley also collaborated with other Bay Area health jurisdictions, which was an important part of its emergency response.

“If you look at the numbers, the level of infection in the community of Berkeley and the campus, the numbers are pretty good,” Fisher said during the event. “It’s this collaboration between the city and the campus and the county, and sister campuses too as well, I think, that’s made us, and I’m going to be careful here, relatively successful.”

Contact Kate Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.