In case of emergency, what should U do?

By and

Imagine you’re in class when, suddenly, the fire alarm goes off. What do you do? But more importantly, what does everyone around you do?

Even if students are aware of the proper procedures in the case of an emergency, their knowledge might not get them out of the sticky situation if the people around start pushing and panicking.

The importance of knowing what to do in an emergency situation cannot be overstated, according to Mike Halligan, associate director of environmental health and safety at the U.

Halligan explains that this awareness involves not only knowledge of what to do in an emergency, but also prevention and preparedness.

Environmental health and safety deals with providing the U community with the steps that need to be taken to prevent hazardous situations, focusing on fire safety in particular.

“Just last month, we conducted a disaster exercise,” Halligan said. “We also talk to various departments about emergency procedures whenever they ask us to.”

As far as fires are concerned, Halligan says that “In general, [students] do know what to do. We know that because we’ve talked to [them].”

Halligan says that much of the knowledge gained from those endless fire drills in elementary, junior high and high school pays off at the U.

“Our biggest concern is evacuation. We hope that [students] learned that in high school,” he said.

In order to maintain students’ safety, Halligan says that the U receives “a couple of million dollars from the government every year for sprinklers, fume hoods and other safety measures.”

Luckily, the U has had “a very low fire incident rate,” Halligan said. The most common type of fire seen on campus are car fires that are ignited usually by a mechanical problem or a cigarette that has not been extinguished properly.

Halligan says that “researchers and students take fire seriously and safety is really their own responsibility.”

Even though fire-with its ample destructive ability-may seem to be the greatest natural threat to our safety on campus, the truth may surprise some.

Seismologists have long been predicting that Utah will see a major earthquake in the near future.

Walter Arabasz, director of the seismograph stations at the U, explains that “during the past 6,000 years, the Wasatch Fault has unleashed a large surface rupturing earthquake about once every 350 years. The last big one was about 600 years ago in Utah Valley and 400 years ago in Nephi.”

Utah Epicenter, an earthquake preparedness information center, recommends the following in case of an earthquake: Stay calm, stay put and take cover.

If outdoors, get into the open, away from buildings, trees, walls and power lines. If in a car, pull over to the side of the road as quickly as possible and stop.

With so many of the campus buildings being relatively old, Arabasz is worried that the campus community is not sufficiently prepared for “the big one” to hit.

Marriott Library has long been considered a seismically dangerous building, due in part to its dated architectural design. This building, and others like it, pose serious threats to campus safety, especially if students are not adequately prepared.

Arabasz says that there are three responses essential to being prepared for a major earthquake: withstand, respond and recover. The U’s old buildings do not make it easy for the U to fulfill the first of these requirements.

Arabasz suspects that “there are good responses in place” for when the earthquake hits, and says that the hardest part of the disaster would be to recover.

“The economic and functional recovery would be the most difficult. If important buildings are destroyed, there will be great disruption of the functioning of the university,” Arabasz said.

Arabasz says that students are not as aware of earthquake safety as they should be because “they’re preoccupied with so many other things that they don’t have time to worry about it.”

But the truth of the matter is that when the disaster actually happens, “you find yourself all alone. If you want a survival tool kit, you have to inform yourself,” according to Arabasz.

Shelly Rider, a U senior, is assured that she knows what to do in the event of an emergency.

“You need to evacuate the building, but none of my classes mentioned anything about it. We once had a fire drill in the College of Nursing. Everyone handled it well because you’re so used to it,” Rider said.

Brian Harper, a first-year graduate student, says that he is unaware of what to do in a less common situation such as an earthquake.

“Making the information somehow available would help a lot,” Harper said. “A lot of it is common sense, but an earthquake is not a situation that you often deal with.”

Emergency information is available through Environmental Health and Safety by calling 581 6590.

In general, it is recommended that all faculty and staff at the U always know where exits are, practice leaving, designate a gathering place a safe distance away and practice leaving again.

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