NU to upgrade emergency evacuation plan, establish committee to address campus safety


Daily file photo by Marcel Bollag

A University Police car. Administrators said Northwestern is establishing a committee to standardize its emergency evacuation plan.

Adrian Wan, Assistant Web Editor

Northwestern will form a campus-wide evacuation committee in an effort to standardize its emergency evacuation plan, said Gwen Butler, environmental health and safety director in the Office of Risk Management.

While emergency response practices have long been in place, the Office of Risk Management and the Department of Safety & Security have joined forces in the past few months, Butler said. The team plans to recruit representatives from different University departments and residential facilities to establish the evacuation committee, she added.

Greg Klaiber, director of emergency management, said the committee will review proposals by representatives of residential buildings, draft a “standardized” evacuation plan and post emergency route signage in common areas. The committee members — after receiving emergency preparedness trainings themselves — will be expected to educate community members about the logistics of emergency evacuation, he said.

“Standardization essentially will say, ‘You will have a plan and every employee in your facility must be made aware of the plan and know the plan,’” Klaiber said. “Students, faculties and staff, no matter what facilities they are in, need to have an understanding of how to evacuate and get out as quickly as possible.”

Klaiber added that because not all residential facilities adhere to the current evacuation policy — which require the practice of annual emergency drills — the newly standardized evacuation plan will more effectively enforce the regulation.

Butler said administrators began working on standardizing the evacuation plan before the gun hoax earlier this year, in which Northwestern’s Evanston campus went on lockdown following reports of a man with a gun.

In response to the hoax, however, the Office of Risk Management has taken steps to upgrade its emergency response system, Klaiber said. For example, the office is looking at ways to expand its emergency notification service to people unaffiliated with the University.

Norris University Center has also taken action following the gun hoax. Jeremy Schenk, the center’s executive director, said Norris has formed an “internal” coalition, consisting of staff members from the Office of Risk Management and the emergency management staff as well as representatives from Norris partners, to “debrief” past experiences of evacuation and review the emergency response procedure.

The coalition was established in response to the swatting incident and a fire accident that occurred during the annual MegaShabbat event in February, Schenk said.

He said one of the key issues the coalition focuses on is how to handle emergency situations at times when full-time staffers are not present in the building — like late at night or during the weekend. Accordingly, the team is fleshing out a plan to ensure vendor partners and food service staff receive emergency notifications and are better equipped to evacuate the building.

“We are very early on: There’s only been one meeting and there’s a lot of work to be done,” Schenk said. “But it’s important to look at the things that went well and make sure we are somewhere we need to be.”

As administrators work to standardize the evacuation process at NU, Butler said the committee will seek feedback from community members because evacuations require the cooperative action of the whole university.

Butler added that the group will review the evacuation procedure to accommodate the needs of a wider range of people, including those with physical disabilities.

“What we’ve done in the past is that people have requested, ‘Hey, can you help us update our emergency planning?’” Butler said. “But now we want to go beyond waiting for someone to invite us. We want to make sure we are providing that information and forming process to do that.”

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