MHUB communication tool for students, staff, and faculty

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When the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-Madison) established its Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in spring 2009, it used an e-mail platform called MHUB to manage H1N1-related communication across campus. The communications division of the EOC had a difficult job during the H1N1 outbreak, because it was responsible for creating and distributing large amounts of urgent information that was subject to change without much warning. Communicating with students, staff, and faculty via MHUB allowed it to function as the "ears and eyes of the virtual EOC," said Captain Steven Rogers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department (UWPD).

The MHUB e-mail address was posted as a link on the main UW-Madison website and on the University Health Services (UHS) website. It had two main uses: 1) It served as a forum for students, staff, and faculty to ask questions about the pandemic and campus response; and 2) It allowed police/incident command to address departmental concerns about continuity-of-operations (COOP) planning.

After the emergence of novel H1N1 in spring 2009, students and university personnel sent their questions to the MHUB e-mail account, which was monitored by a UWPD member. The UWPD officer who received the questions would answer them if they pertained to emergency response on campus or forward them to the appropriate department for housing, academic, or other concerns. MHUB received few questions from students or parents during the outbreak, and these were usually directed to UHS (for questions about health concerns), the registrar's office (for questions about grades and missing classes), and the housing office. During spring 2009, the MHUB e-mail address needed to be checked every half-hour, but eventually staff scaled back and were checking for messages every two hours. Although UWPD initially served as a go-between for questions and answers, some of the questions became so familiar over time that UWPD personnel could simply reply with an accurate answer. UWPD made sure that they forwarded answers in one business day, although e-mails concerning flu symptoms were forwarded as urgent to UHS. UWPD staff maintained a database of questions that arrived via MHUB, keeping questions about medical issues, housing, grades, and other topics in separate logs to ultimately use for tracking student and staff concerns.

MHUB also served as a communication system for departments that were struggling to complete their COOP plans. UWPD issued instructions for completing COOP plans via MHUB and answered related questions about how each on-campus department should proceed. When the COOP plans were submitted via e-mail, UWPD submitted the plans to the Provost's office, which would determine whether or not they fulfilled the requirements. If plans were incomplete, UWPD would serve as liaison between the departments and the provosts to ensure that COOP information was thorough and followed the campus' guidelines. In this capacity, MHUB allowed critical COOP planning information and questions quickly bounce back and forth across the university.

UW-Madison is a large public university and the flagship of the University of Wisconsin system, and thus had to work significantly with state public health and the other state universities to ensure consistent communication. UW-Madison saw illness appear and increase on its campus quickly in spring 2009, so much of its communication materials were distributed before Wisconsin Department of Health Services began its H1N1 communication campaign. UWPD and UHS had to align their communications with the state's efforts throughout the pandemic, because the University of Wisconsin employed approximately half of the state workers. The state health department also had authority over some university activities, such as cancelation of public gatherings. UWPD and UHS were able to communicate via MHUB regarding necessary changes for communications materials, and campus departments had a quick line of communication when they needed to release communication that had not been provided by the state, Rogers said. UWPD were able to disseminate and provide instruction on COOP planning for other campuses in the University of Wisconsin system via MHUB as well.

While the University of Wisconsin system and the state of Wisconsin had been involved in state planning for several years before the emergence of H1N1, MHUB ensured that a quick, responsive flow of communication within and outside UW-Madison existed during even the busiest days of the pandemic.

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