Fire Drills show evacuation time improvement

by Beacon Staff • November 9, 2005

During the first round of planned fire drills this semester, building evacuations were free of the congestion and delays that marked an emergency evacuation of the Walker Building in November of 2004. Since that time, revisions have been made to the Emergency Evacuation Plan (EEP) for Emerson buildings.

As coordinator of safety services, Office of Public Safety Lt. Scott Bornstein oversees EEPs on the west side of campus, where drills were recently held.

Problems during an evacuation after a gas leak at 120 Boylston St. on Nov. 19, 2004 included overcrowded stairwells that slowed students leaving the building, according to Bornstein.

EEPs are designed by the Office of Property Management for each floor of every Emerson building to explain clearly the evacuation procedure. Building Manager Marc Hamilton oversees all EEPs.

Hamilton attributed previous delays to poor communication with faculty about how to exit the buildings, which resulted in people leaving through the wrong exits.

Bornstein said that drills at 100 and 132-4 Beacon streets and 6 Arlington St. this year have gone smoothly, but 6 Arlington St. had the worst evacuation time.

"We had some issues," Bornstein said. "Within a minute, 90 percent of the building's occupants are cleared, and then you have your stragglers who don't think it's important enough. And there was one student who didn't come down for about 14 minutes."

Most buildings, Bornstein said, were completely evacuated within five to six minutes of an alarm sounding.

Bornstein said that the building's resident assistants (RAs) had to escort the student from the building.

Fire drills were originally scheduled for the east side Emerson buildings shortly after the west side drills, but were cancelled due to rain, Bornstein said. Those drills, however, will be conducted before the end of the semester.

"For the most part, all of the fire systems work the same," Bornstein said. "The sprinklers all work the same in the buildings. The difference is just where you have to go when there is an alarm."

Only four EEPs are currently available on Emerson's Web site. Plans for Emerson buildings at 80 and 120 Boylston streets and 180 and 216 Tremont streets are posted at www.emerson.edu/property_management, but EEPs for the 96, 100, 132-4 Beacon streets and 6 Arlington St. buildings are not on the site.

Dean of Students Ronald Ludman, who oversees the Office of Housing and Residence Life in applying west side EEPs, said he did not know why the plans do not appear on the Web site.

Hamilton said a plan for the Tufte Performance and Production Center will soon be added to the site.

The lack of drills on the east side of campus has upset some students.

Despite training, Ashley Phillips, a junior film major and RA at 6 Arlington St., said she was unaware of her duties during a real fire or drill.

According to EEPs for residence halls, RAs are to serve as "fire marshals" during emergencies and drills-their duties include guiding students to the exits and checking the floors for any students left behind.

Still, Phillips said she felt this evacuation was an improvement over last year's fire drills.

"Everyone got out fairly fast," Phillips said. "There was only one person in the building during the sweep, where in the past with fire drills there have been at least three or four."

Mandy Boykin, a freshman print journalism major living on the 10th floor of 100 Beacon St., said that during an emergency, the building's stairwells would most likely become crowded.

"That would be a problem in the stairwells, because when you open the door, you'd probably hit somebody," Boykin said.

The Office of Property Management is planning more revisions to the EEPs, but Hamilton said that the plans distributed to students at the beginning of the year are fully up-to-date. The EEP for 80 Boylston St. included clearer language and diagrams than the original copy created in 2002, according to Hamilton.

"[I am] under no strict time table to have the changes made," Hamilton said. "But in the best of all worlds [they would be made] by the spring of next semester."

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