As a senior safety specialist for EH&S, and a member of its Safety and Compliance team, Alexandra “Alex” Norris serves at the forefront of UCLA’s safety training and programs campus-wide. A highly interpersonal team, Safety and Compliance works on its 1-to-1 relationships with all staff members performing hazardous tasks through consultations, inspections, and the investigation of work-related injuries. For this unit “Safety First” is the name of the game.
Alex also supports the logistics unit of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), ensuring essential staff on campus receive the personal protective equipment necessary to succeed. In the past, the EOC has been activated in response to issues critical to the function and safety of UCLA, as was the case during the Skirball fire of last year in neighboring Bel-Air and the 2014 flooding of Pauley Pavilion due to a broken water main on Sunset Boulevard. On March 17, the EOC was once again activated as a response to the current COVID-19 crisis.
Due to the nature of the current crisis and the physical limitations it poses, the six-person Safety and Compliance team has worked diligently to modify in detail and update as realistically as possible its Job Safety Analysis (JSAs) remotely from home. Additionally, the team has been in the process of reformatting its in-person safety training to a virtual setting. As the responsibilities of the EOC have increasingly occupied her, Alex commends her team’s motivation during these otherwise stressful times, recognizing how much they’ve continually stepped up to the plate.
In accordance with Los Angeles County’s extension of the “safer at home” order on April 10, and the requirement that all essential employees wear cloth face masks, EH&S and Events & Transportation have collaborated in the distribution of the much needed equipment by operating as a team from outside of the Center for the Health Sciences. Collaborative efforts in particular, which have been key during times like these, have stirred Alex as she notes the cooperation between entities who have not had the opportunity to work together before.
When asked what has made working for Environment, Health & Safety special, Alex calls on the ability to service more than just the research that’s conducted at the university. Supporting the stewards—from all departments—who have remained on-campus is another heartfelt recognition of their essential role to the operational effectiveness of UCLA as a whole.
Alex Norris (second from left above) is a Senior Safety Specialist for UCLA’s Office of Environment, Health & Safety, where she develops, executes, and coordinates campus-wide safety programs including the Hazard Communication Program, Heat Illness Prevention Plan, and Shop Safety Program. In addition to her duties in EH&S, Norris is also providing supply chain support in the Logistics unit of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), where she procures, coordinates and arranges distribution of Personal Protective Equipment to essential staff on campus. The EOC activated on 3/17/2020 to provide COVID-19 response and coordination around issues critical to the function and safety of UCLA and the Bruin community.
How has the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) adapted in order to succeed in its responsibilities?
The necessity for physical distancing that comes with functioning in a COVID-19 reality has certainly created some challenges. For example, the EOC has been put in a unique position and challenged to be innovative in its daily operations. To accomplish our function of not only maintaining general situational awareness, but also ensuring the continuity of academic and research functions, campus operations and safety, each of our units interact and communicate daily with updates related to student housing, essential employee concerns, and issues related to UCLA Health. Rather than working from a central location on campus and gathering around a table with each other on a daily basis as traditional EOCs do, our members are meeting and operating in virtual spaces throughout the day. This is highly unusual for an EOC, but we have made it work!
Do you find that recent events have made your work difficult, or are there now new opportunities for emergency preparedness?
The physical distancing that comes with COVID-19 has certainly increased the level of difficulty in our work; for instance, it’s harder to rally a team when you’re all in different places, and it’s hard to focus on your goals when there’s so much else going on in the world. I believe we’ve been coping well, though, given the circumstances.
With a number of government entities and health organizations sharing information on COVID-19 pandemic, how does the EOC ensure the information it receives is accurate and reliable?
EOC leadership only takes input from recognized state, county, city, and university sources. We pull our information from Governor Gavin Newsom’s press releases and situation reports, as well as those from Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti. We also rely heavily on the information that Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Los Angeles County Department of Public Health releases daily. EOC leadership then consolidates all of this information and shares it with the team in a daily briefing call to make sure all of us are informed, aligned, and in compliance with city, county and state directives.
For many, physical distancing has created loneliness — how has your department tried to mitigate this?
I’m temporarily serving on the EOC, but my home department is Environment, Health and Safety (EH&S). We’re a quite social department (if you’ve met any of us, you’ll know!). It’s been rough on a lot of us — including myself — to not see each other (or, in some cases, anyone) for this long. Luckily, we have a couple of colleagues in the department who have set up fun remote activities for us like Zoom “water cooler” and Zoom happy hours, etc. We’ve also been pretty diligent about using our cameras during meetings, too, so we can actually see one another — every little bit helps us feel connected.
In what ways do you feel as a member of UCLA's community?
It’s easy to feel very alone at a time like this, but I’ve seen UCLA staff, faculty and students work really hard to keep their sense of community. It’s strongest in the people themselves – nobody wants to let go of that sense of identity and connection that UCLA has given them, and they’ve taken it upon themselves to keep it going, — whether that’s through chats, Zoom get-togethers, sharing pictures and memories of UCLA, or anything else. It’s actually really inspirational.
What is your proudest moment as a Bruin?
After working at UCLA for several years, it’s too hard to pick just one! I’ve really grown both personally and professionally in my time here — this was my first job in my field, and it’s grown and changed with me during the past seven years that I’ve been in this role. Because the university is so large, it can take a long time to get into the swing of things here at UCLA, as we all know, but it is an exciting place to work and there are many opportunities to learn and grow on campus. My proudest moments have probably been the times I’ve been the “go-to” or “point person” for projects — it’s gratifying to know that people recognize the work I’ve put in, and that they trust my judgment, especially coming from colleagues at one of the top universities in the country.