Campuswide Evacuation Drill Rates High Mark
Providence, R.I.--Providence College’s first-ever campuswide building evacuation drill ran smoothly and achieved the primary objectives of campus emergency response officials, the College’s director of emergency management said.
Koren V. Kanadanian said officials “learned a lot” from the drill but not anything that was not anticipated. The exercise ensured that the College community understands the procedures to follow in the case of a real emergency and that members of the Safety and Emergency Response Committee (SERC) and campus emergency responders know and can execute their responsibilities, he noted.
“The drill was very much a success. We were very happy with its outcome,” said Kanadanian.
Held on a recent weekday afternoon, the drill--called “PC Rocks”--involved the evacuation of all campus buildings following a purported earthquake. Areas evacuated included residence halls, classrooms, offices, laboratories, Schneider Arena, studios, performance spaces, dining facilities, recreational facilities, lounges, study spaces, and other occupied structures.
Everyone on campus--literally thousands of students, faculty, staff, contractors, and visitors--filed out to one of nine “rally points” across campus and remained there until given clearance to return inside.
The drill complied with The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, which requires colleges and universities to conduct an annual, campuswide emergency evacuation drill utilizing specific procedures, protocols, notification systems, and trained personnel.
The exercise represented the first large-scale test of the College’s emergency notification system, which includes the Blackboard Connect and Ramtel All-Campus Alert systems. Evacuation notifications went out in multiple forms through text messages, voice mail (via campus and cell phones), e-mail, the College’s Web site, sirens, flashing blue lights, and loudspeaker announcements.
Kanadanian pointed out the collaborative effort needed in order for the drill to take place. Staff members in the Office of Safety and Security, the Office of Residence Life--including resident assistants--and the Department of Military Science and its Army ROTC Patriot Battalion played key roles that could be replicated in the event of a real emergency.
Their responsibilities included monitoring the rally points and conducting sweeps of all buildings, checking for occupants in each.
Drill unfolds at command center
Kanadanian, the SERC, and members of the Senior Cabinet monitored the drill from the emergency operations center in Harkins Hall. They followed the action on a large digital screen that translated multiple images simultaneously from security cameras located throughout campus.
During and after the drill, SERC members were charged with discussing and coordinating a host of needs based on “situation reports” from elsewhere on campus.
The initial report stated that four residence buildings housing approximately 1,500 students were severely damaged and would be off-line for six months. A subsequent scenario indicated three academic buildings were damaged and also would be out of commission for an extended period.
“There are lots of ‘from the hip’ issues to deal with,” Kanadanian told SERC members, who had taken a 5½-hour Incident Command Course a few weeks before. He cited such considerations as situation management, resources, food, accommodations, and notification of students’ families.
“We’re our own city. We need to be self-sufficient. We have to look at this as no one is going to help us,” he said.
Learning and tweaking
In reviewing the drill, Kanadanian said the exercise will help fine-tune the College’s emergency procedures. For example, he pointed out that the interior notification infrastructure is partially completed and that emergency response officials discovered additional critical locations where notification during a campus emergency is necessary.
Officials also will continue to assess the rally point locations and to build up the overall emergency notification infrastructure, “looking to the best technology possible that will work effectively on the PC campus,” he said.
Kanadanian said SERC members reported that they “benefited greatly” and felt more confident of their responsibilities as a result of both the Incident Command Course and the drill. He said he was particularly pleased with the cooperation of the College community, the operational assistance he received from various departments and offices, and “the willingness of everyone to participate.”
Major John J. Leyden Jr., executive director of safety and security and chair of the SERC, agreed that the drill was a success and underscored the fact that drills better prepare everyone in the eventuality of an emergency.
“We’re confident that we have the ability to respond and communicate to the campus community during an emergency,” he stated, adding that the SERC held a debriefing the following day to discuss and assess the event.
As for the future, Kanadanian said emergency responders will be working on a lock-down drill and other large-scale drills. The College community will be notified when plans are formulated.
--Charles C. Joyce