Communication is Key to Improving Emergency Response Procedures

TSL believes the fire behind Oldenborg revealed problems in the emergency response plan. We appreciate Dean of Student Life Ric Townes's fast response in coordinating policy changes, and we are happy that the fire posed no real threat to students or to the building. Policy changes should be made quickly and thoroughly to avoid potential tragedy the next time an emergency arises.

Fire alarms are a far-too-frequent occurrence on college campuses. After all, it only takes one person leaving popcorn in his or her microwave or deciding to smoke inside to cause an entire building to evacuate. Once evacuated, students might have to stand outside for hours. There's nothing worse than a fire alarm to interrupt a peaceful night of sleep. It's no wonder, then, that students want to be sure that it's a "real fire" before getting out of bed, dressing and stumbling into the night. In the case that the next time an alarm goes off is for a "real fire," this reluctance to react could have tragic consequences.

We think that Townes's proposals to improve emergency responses in the future are good and necessary. During a fire or other emergency, students should immediately be able to tell who is in charge, be it RAs walking through halls with megaphones or the dean-on-call letting evacuated students know where to wait and how long they will likely be outside. Having an authority figure in charge at the scene is the difference between students confusedly milling about outside and students orderly waiting for the instruction that everything is clear.

We recommend, however, that the policy go further toward making students aware of what is happening. Campus Safety texting students in dorms that have an emergency is a good idea. Fire alarms should be enough to let people know to get out of the building, but some forcefully worded encouragement would not hurt.

Keeping students updated as to how the incident is developing would help as well. Campus Safety could create a Twitter account or an online live update system to help keep students updated on the status of their buildings. With this tool, Campus Safety could quickly communicate where fires or other incidents are occurring and when it is safe for students to return, without sending a barrage of text messages. When ITS experienced a power outage Monday and campus services were disrupted, for example, students could check the ITS Twitter to see what was going on. A similar system would prevent students from re-entering buildings before fires are extinguished.

We hope that with prompt review and revision of the procedure, everyone will be safe no matter how threatening the next incident turns out to be.