The University of Nebraska–Lincoln has launched an initiative to help the campus community be better prepared for emergency situations within buildings.
Led by UNL’s emergency preparedness team, the initiative encourages campus departments and units to complete building emergency action plans. The plans serve two purposes — to offer building-specific emergency procedure details to faculty, staff and students; and to provide a vital source of information for first responders.
“These individual building plans are annexes to the university’s overall emergency operations plan,” said Shannon McVaney, an emergency management specialist with University Police. “They are an important tool that provides specific information about the unique properties within campus buildings and how individuals and first responders can safely react in the event of an emergency situation.”
Information in each building emergency action plan includes a list of emergency contacts; details on where to gather based on emergency type; names of individuals who may need assistance during evacuations or shelter-in-place situations; communication devices that can provide building warning information; and a list of hazardous material locations.
The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources is a campus leader in the UNL effort, having worked for nearly two years gathering information on each of their East Campus buildings. John Markwell, associate dean for the college and professor of biochemistry, has led the project. It is scheduled for completion by the start of the fall semester.
“I was talking with a colleague and realized that, as a faculty member, the university tells you where shelter areas are in respect to your office but not where to go if there is an emergency when you are in the classroom,” Markwell said. “As faculty, we are responsible for those students and not knowing where to take them in an emergency situation seemed like a deficiency we needed to eliminate.”
To make an immediate impact with students, the college started requiring its faculty to include emergency evacuation details in syllabi presented at the start of the semester.
“Integrating that information into course syllabi has been useful,” Markwell said. “But it will be improved this fall when we have specific plans for every classroom in place next fall.”
The plans have already shown value to first responders. Most recently, the completed Hardin Hall document was used by UNLPD to connect building emergency contacts on scene with Lincoln Fire and Rescue crews that responded to a report of a chemical leak on April 11.
“One of the identified building emergency coordinators for Hardin Hall was able to go to unified command on scene and answer questions as needed,” McVaney said. “Having that added line of communication makes the response more efficient and helps us make better decisions on what actions to take next.”
McVaney said UNLPD continues to reach out to campus departments and units to help them draft individual building emergency action plans. The UNL emergency preparedness team offers a template of the plans online and will provide training as requested by participating campus departments and units.
“These building emergency action plans are not something required, but they are greatly encouraged,” McVaney said. “It is entirely up to the department to facilitate the planning process and decide on our level of engagement in that process.”