February 4, 2012

Lack of evacuation plans leaves students, staff unprepared

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Inside Foellinger Auditorium.
While the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus has a campus-wide Emergency Operations Plan, only 16 percent of its buildings have building Emergency Action Plans. The Office of Emergency Planning began an initiative to establish such plans for every building on campus more than two years ago, but estimates it will take a decade to get plans in place. The plans help building staff prepare better responses to emergencies like the presence of a gunman in a classroom. On the UI campus on Friday, Feb. 3, 2012.

Inside Foellinger Auditorium. While the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus has a campus-wide Emergency Operations Plan, only 16 percent of its buildings have building Emergency Action Plans. The Office of Emergency Planning began an initiative to establish such plans for every building on campus more than two years ago, but estimates it will take a decade to get plans in place. The plans help building staff prepare better responses to emergencies like the presence of a gunman in a classroom. On the UI campus on Friday, Feb. 3, 2012.

By Mary Beth Versaci/For CU-CitizenAccess — On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 students in two separate attacks on the Virginia Tech campus, one in a residence hall and the other in a classroom.

On Feb. 14, 2008, Steven Kazmierczak entered a lecture of about 150 students at Northern Illinois University and shot 26 people, killing five of them.

If a shooter were to walk into a classroom on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, the University is ready with a campus-wide Emergency Operations Plan , but no campus mandate requires each individual campus building to have an all-hazards evacuation plan.

Without these Building Emergency Action Plans, which require buildings to plan emergency responses for situations ranging from natural disasters and fires to bomb threats and shooters, building staff are not prepared to respond to an emergency like the presence of a gunman in a classroom.

Of the approximately 450 buildings on the University of Illinois campus, only 75 have Building Emergency Action Plans completed or in progress. This means that a little more than 16 percent have evacuation plans in place in the event of an emergency.

While these buildings include all residence halls, both public and private, they do not include many buildings that host countless classes throughout the day, some with rosters of more than 700 students. And it could take another decade for every building on campus to have one.

“I don’t care if the plans are required,” said Todd Short, director of the Office of Emergency Planning. “Having these plans is the right thing to do, and every building should have one.”

The Office of Emergency Planning began the initiative to establish these plans on campus two years ago, when Short became director of the office. As director, he saw the need for every building to have an all-hazards plan, beginning with every residence hall.

Buildings could actually have their own plans in place instead of the Building Emergency Action Plans, but out of the hundreds of buildings on campus, there are still those that most likely do not have any plan, Short said.

And unless representatives from the building come to Short with their own plan, he does not know about it.

Building Emergency Action Plans would fit into a standard campus format, making it easier for emergency responders to know what to do if an emergency were to occur at any campus building. The plans would cover evacuation procedures, as well as what to do if evacuation is not possible.

If building representatives do come to the Office of Emergency Planning with their own plan, the office will ask that the plan be modified to fit the format of a Building Emergency Action Plan in order to make emergency response easier.

However, due to a lack of resources, having a plan for every building is easier said than done.

Short is the sole staff member of the Office of Emergency Planning, so it is difficult for him to enforce the creation and exercise of these plans in all campus buildings.

“I could use a staff of 25 people easily,” Short said.

In the meantime, large lecture halls such as Foellinger Auditorium and Smith Hall are without Building Emergency Action Plans. Buildings on the Main Quad that experience a lot of student traffic through lectures, standard-sized classes or both, such as Gregory Hall, Noyes Laboratory and the English Building, also lack plans.

The Armory, which is known on campus for its confusing layout, does not have a Building Emergency Action Plan either.

Although no campus mandate requires these Building Emergency Action Plans, the State of Illinois Office of the State Fire Marshall has adopted the 2000 edition of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 101 Life Safety Code, said Craig Grant, associate director of Campus Code Compliance and Fire Safety.

The NFPA 101 Life Safety Code has emergency evacuation plan requirements for specific types of buildings found at the University of Illinois, including Campus Recreation facilities, large assembly venues and buildings with day care programs.

These buildings with day care programs include the Child Development Laboratory, Early Child Development Laboratory, Children’s Research Center, McKinley Health Center and University High School.

These plans are required to be kept in a readily accessible location, and staff members are required to be trained in their respective roles under the plan, Grant said.

Routine exercises of the plan also are required, which may include something like a monthly fire drill at the day care facilities.

McKinley Health Center, University High School, the Child Development Laboratory, Early Child Development Laboratory and Children’s Research Center all have Building Emergency Action Plans in progress.

The Child Development and Early Child Development laboratories currently have their own formalized emergency plan that includes procedures for natural disasters, as well as going into “lock down mode” in the case of an immediate safety threat to children or staff, said Brent McBride, director of the laboratories.

This plan has been sent to the Office of Emergency Planning and awaits review to see what changes need to be made to make it fit into the Building Emergency Action Plan format.

Campus Recreation facilities, such as the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) and Campus Recreation Center East (CRCE), and large assembly venues on campus, such as Memorial Stadium, Assembly Hall and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, also are required to have plans to manage crowds in an emergency, according to the NFPA 101 Life Safety Code.

All of these buildings have Building Emergency Action Plans either completed or in progress.

The NFPA 101 Life Safety Code requires residence halls and the Illini Union Hotel to post emergency instructions on room doors for their residents and guests. Other facility types on campus are not included under this part of the code.

The Emergency Evacuation Plan for People with Disabilities Act, another Illinois statute, requires buildings with a height of more than 80 feet to have evacuation plans, Grant said.

This would include the Psychology Building, which has a Building Emergency Action Plan in progress, and Wardall, Sherman, Trelease and Oglesby residence halls, all of which have plans completed.

Creating these plans is a slow process because it requires the cooperation of the different departments located within each building. The person responsible for compiling the Building Emergency Action Plan also varies for each building.

Although Short will not get his staff of 25 to help with these plans anytime soon, he hopes to hire an assistant in early 2012. This person’s job will be to ensure that every building on campus has a Building Emergency Action Plan and completes regular exercises for it. As of Feb. 3, a finalist was selected.

With this new assistant, Short hopes his office will be able to complete 30-40 plans per year, with a goal of having them all completed in the next 10 years.

Short said they will start with the 50-60 plans in progress that currently need to be reviewed and then expand from there.

“It’s a never-ending process, but that’s the essence of emergency planning,” he said.