College Planning & Management

JAN 2013

College Planning & Management is the information resource for professionals serving the college and university market. Covering facilities, security, technology and business.

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Fire & Life Safety FOCUS ON PREPAR AT ION AND PRE V EN T ION Emergency Communications for All Prepare emergency responses for people of all abilities on your campus. BY MIKE HALLIGAN E VERY DAY THERE ARE emergencies happening on college and university campuses across the country. Weather-related, floods, fires, and manmade disasters all require that we provide notification to students, faculty, and staff on campus. For most of the campus population this is an easy task; using fire alarm systems or emergency alert messages, we can quickly and effectively notify individuals about potentially harmful or life-threatening events. However, for people with hearing, sight, or learning disabilities these normal methods of communication may not be effective. In emergencies, many deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals need to observe the actions of others and then respond as those others do. In many cases they do this without knowing what the event is but, because direct communication has not occurred, they have no choice except to follow others. Improving Communication for All Abilities There is a better way. There are a few steps that can be followed to improve communication with employees, students, and visitors on campus with disabilities. Some of these approaches can make use of technology to assist in sharing emergency information. For deaf or blind individuals, visual and vibrating alarms can alert them to issues. While deaf individuals may respond to strobes on alarm systems they may not, at the time of the event, be in an area that has adequate strobe coverage. Therefore, a vibration alarm may be able to supplement the visual notification system. For blind individuals, the same vibrating alarm may assist when they work in an area that is loud or decibel levels of the alarm system are low. Close-vision signage, pop-up screen messages, TTY phone system technologies, and mobile devices can also help hearing- and sight-impaired individuals. In addition to technology solutions, many locations have low-tech backup solutions. Deaf or blind individuals can be instructed to evacuate if someone draws an X on their backs with their fi nger. They know to stop their activity and evacuate with the person who drew the X, without asking questions until they have safely arrived at the evacuation point. Consultation with the institution's disabilities coordinator can help facilities' lifesafety systems staff better understand the needs of individuals with disabilities on campus. Consider the Content of Emergency Communications Once the correct forms of communication are in place, it's equally important to make sure you send the right message in a clear, easily understandable, and concise format. It may seem simple to send an emergency message. However, the method of delivery and the ability of the recipient to understand what to do must be considered. The message must get to the right person at the right time for the right response. Take time now to plan how you will send messages to your disabled population. Understanding how you will disseminate the information will allow you to work with communication experts to tailor the message so, regardless of the disability, the individual who needs to get it will understand what action to take. Meet with individuals who self-identify their disabilities, find out how they best receive information, and inform them of the methods available on your campus. This will insure that their anxiety over what and how to respond is minimized. Get Everyone Involved Involve local police and fire department staff, so they are aware of the methods you are using to notify individuals. While we focus on fire and life safety in this article, communication with individuals with disabilities is critical for police departments as well. Think through all the scenarios you would need to create a message for and then build that message for each method you will use to disseminate the information. Then test the delivery with the intended individuals. Take time to review incidents that take place elsewhere but could also happen at your school. Periodically sit down with emergency responders, communications, IT, disability services, staff, and students to work through the messages that would help them take action at your school. Also take time, as new technologies for communication come to market, to review how you can use these advancements to better communicate with your entire campus population. CPM Mike Halligan is the associate director of Environmental Health and Safety at the University of Utah and is responsible for Fire Prevention and Special Events Life Safety. He frequently speaks about performance-based code solutions for campus building projects, is recognized as an expert on residence hall fire safety programs, and conducts school fire prevention program audits/strategic planning. He can be reached at 801/585-9327 or at mike.halligan@ehs.utah.edu. JANUARY 2013 / COLLEGE PLANNING & MANAGEMENT 9

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