The New Safety U
Loyola University Chicago recently became the first university to launch an electronic pre-plan program for fire emergencies
- By David Howorka
- Sep 01, 2010
Through the eyes of a safety professional, the bucolic scene on a college
campus is a complex set of issues that need to be addressed in
an emergency. The meandering paths through school grounds mean
it’s that much harder to direct emergency personnel to a building
that only has pedestrian access. The many buildings run the gamut
from dormitories and offices to lecture halls and potentially hazardous chemistry
labs. Each of the thousands of students needs to be notified and directed to safety
in case of an emergency, while first responders require pertinent information to
respond to the incident.
That’s why Loyola University Chicago started to look into employing an electronic
pre-plan for its entire campus.
Loyola University Chicago is the nation’s largest Jesuit Catholic university.
Founded in 1870, this urban university has two main campuses: the Lake Shore
Campus near Lake Michigan on Chicago’s north side and the Water Tower Campus,
located in the heart of downtown Chicago.
The National Fire Protection Association reports that 3,300 structure fires occur
annually in dormitories, fraternities and sororities, causing more than $25 million
in damage and numerous deaths. With more than 70 buildings and 15,000
students, Father Michael Garanzini, Loyola’s president, knew pre-planning for a
fire emergency was crucial.
“Most universities have crisis plans and procedures, like notifying students
via Web and text during emergencies,” Garanzini said. “But with our large and spread-out campus, I wanted to be more proactive so that emergencies didn’t turn
into major disasters.”
Garanzini found a solution with a Web-based, electronic pre-plan system for fire
emergencies used by fire departments and building managers all over the United
States. Once a building is spatially mapped, first responders have immediate access
to building location, maps, photographs, floor plans, utility shutoff locations, fire
hydrant locations, structural information, number of occupants, lists of disabled
persons, cautionary notes about possible hazards and other information required
to respond to the incident.
With its numerous buildings spread over two campuses, these features were
critical for Loyola. Like most campuses, many of the academic and dormitory
buildings had a street address that did not actually have street access, which meant
an en-route fire truck would reach a dead end, and would need to backtrack and
find another access point, losing critical minutes. Numerous buildings contained
hazardous materials, ranging from chemistry lab materials to solutions for cooling
towers. These issues had the potential to become catastrophes if emergency
personnel weren’t prepared.
The first step in moving Loyola’s data into the system was gathering all of the information,
which turned out to be an invaluable process. Like most campuses with
multiple buildings, Loyola’s information was spread across structures and departments
without a centralized clearinghouse. Security had its own information, and
so did operations and even the academic department heads.
Two departments -- security and operations -- headed the data-gathering project.
Starting with a basic list of every building on campus, the team took a tour
of each one, using mobile computers to input building details and supplementing
that information with existing data and documents. For most of the buildings,
Loyola’s architectural firm was able to provide electronic floor plans that were easily incorporated into the building’s record. For a
handful of older buildings, floor plans were scanned
and entered into the system in the same way an attachment
is added to an e-mail.
The team also entered material safety data sheets
into the system so first responders would be aware of
any hazardous material that could be a risk factor
in an emergency. This applied not only to materials
needed to maintain buildings’ elevators and cooling
towers, but also to chemicals in the laboratories.
Through the investigation and walk-through of
each building, Loyola staffers discovered information
that had not been updated for years. They also realized
certain staff members knew information others
did not; as a result, finding the person who knew the
answers was sometimes a challenge.
Many campus buildings had both a street address
and a building name. If a student calls 911 and says,
“I’m in Flanner Hall,” the software is able to easily
translate that information for first responders into a
map and street address of the location.
Once all of the data had been entered, the system
was ready to go. Although fire departments typically
keep paper pre-plans of buildings in binders,
they are often outdated and incomplete and can take
more than an hour to access during an emergency.
Now, updated electronic information is available on
computers in Loyola’s security offices and on touchscreen
monitors throughout the campus. In addition,
because designated personnel can make real-time updates
to the system, the emergency pre-plans should
always be current.
Loyola staffers also met with local police and fire departments
to brief them on the system. Because the
pre-plan system is Web-based, many first responders
are able to access the data on mobile computers on
the way to an emergency.
Since the electronic pre-plan system at Loyola has
been implemented, thankfully, there have been no crises.
However, the staff members at Loyola are confident
that, if the need arises, they’ll have access to
the information they need to keep their students safe
and to be immediately attentive to the specifics of the
Loyola University was the first major university in
the United States to adopt an electronic pre-plan system.
Although others have crisis plans in place, none
are Web-based or instantly accessible by multiple staff
members and emergency personnel. Given the unique
challenges of maintaining a safe college campus, it is
imperative that more college campuses consider implementing
electronic fire emergency pre-plans.
This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Security Today.
David Howorka is executive vice president of RealView LLC.