September is National Preparedness Month, an essential reminder that emergencies don’t wait. Jonathan Robb, director of Emergency Preparedness, observed that given the year we have had, preparedness should be fresh on everyone’s mind.
“During 2020, we have seen that it doesn’t matter if there is a current emergency, there is always the possibility that something else can happen,” Robb said. “It is best to stay ahead of any possible emergencies and create plans for you and your family. You can never be over-prepared.”
For those working on campus, emergency training and drills will take place as they have in previous years but with an emphasis on COVID-19 safety and social distancing during the training, according to Robb.
“Evacuation drills, tabletop scenarios, and other emergency training are important to practice, even during a pandemic, because emergencies do not wait for the best time to occur,” Robb said.
Robb emphasized that everyone should treat the training exercise or drill like a real emergency. Emergency Preparedness can scale back the intensity and pace to ensure proper COVID-19 safety measures are included.
“We must always practice training and emergency actions to ensure we know what to do if the emergency happens,” Robb said. “We will definitely modify our training and exercises to maintain the appropriate COVID-19 safety measures, while still ensuring the emergency actions get properly tested.”
According to Robb, the Life Safety Code (the safety standard adopted by the Texas State Fire Marshal’s office for use in state buildings) requires fire drills in all assembly occupancies, health care occupancies, dormitories and business occupancy buildings occupied by more than 500 persons, or by more than 100 persons above or below the street level. Therefore, fire drills will continue on campus.
Robb said that one way Emergency Preparedness and Fire Prevention Services have prepared to handle fire drills and training during the pandemic is by performing evacuation drills floor-by-floor in a building. Each floor will take turns to maintain proper social distancing while evacuating rather than the entire building evacuating at the same time during the drill. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Housing and Dining and building managers will send notifications to occupants and signage will be posted throughout the building before a drill.
Communication and discussion after the drill are essential to ensure everyone understands that during an actual emergency, responding to the immediate safety threat takes precedence over COVID-19 precautions. Robb explained that when the fire alarm sounds, all building occupants should treat the alarm as a higher threat than the pandemic and evacuate the building as quickly and safely as possible. If that requires a short duration of not maintaining the appropriate social distancing guidelines for COVID-19, the temporary, short-term alteration should be made to ensure safety against the possible fire emergency. Once outside of the building, all occupants should return to the appropriate COVID-19 safety guidelines and proper social distancing.
Emergency preparedness shouldn’t stop at the borders of campus. Robb and his team offer these recommendations for home preparations:
- Create or update your home emergency kits (PDF). Replace any items that could expire, such as food or batteries. Don’t forget to add protective face coverings, necessary medications, and any other items specific to your family or pets.
- If you do not already have a financial emergency plan (PDF), consider creating one.
- Review and update the communication plan (PDF) that is in place with your family and close friends.
With many UT employees working from home due to the coronavirus, it is important to focus on and practice sound home fire safety. Fire Prevention Services reminds the campus that residential building fires are the leading property type for fire deaths.
Director for Fire Prevention Services Waymon Jackson encourages everyone to have a well-thought-out, organized plan for escape in the event of a fire in our residence.
“The last thing you want to do during a ﬁre is try to think rationally about what to do next to escape,” Jackson said. “You will also want to discuss your escape plan with your family members in detail so that everyone is on the same page should a ﬁre occur.”
According to Jackson, the escape plan should include at least two escape routes from every bedroom. Everyone working and living in the residence should be familiar with basic home ﬁre safety procedures. This includes checking doors for heat before opening them, staying low on the floor to stay out of smoke and knowing the closest way out. In addition to creating an escape plan and talking about it, have fire drills to practice the escape plan so everyone is familiar with what they should do.
During National Preparedness Month, take the time to prepare so that you have emergency plans. Think about learning safety skills this month, such as first aid/CPR, fire extinguisher training and know how to shut off your utilities at home.