From: ILPI Support <info**At_Symbol_Here**ilpi.com>
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] fire drill and emergency gas shut-off valves
Date: Mon, 29 Sep 2014 12:23:39 -0400
Reply-To: DCHAS-L <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU>
As a former academic, I agree with John's comment. In a teaching laboratory, you can indeed lose the entire work period, especially if it comes during the middle of the lab session. In addition to the logistics of the day, it can throw off your entire semester's lab schedule with subsequent repercussions on problem sets and even exams.
In a research laboratory, the potential impact is much more serious. A researcher may be in the middle of an experiment which requires critical temperature control and involves a starting material that took weeks and/or thousands of dollars to make. A fire drill that occurs in such a situation is going to result in one really PO'ed PI and teach the researcher to ignore all future fire alarms. Neither of these is a desired outcome.
While it's clear that the surprise element of fire drills is important to their efficacy, completely unannounced fire drills are not something that should be performed in laboratory settings. All PI's and faculty need to be informed ahead of time (1-2 days minimum) so they can schedule accordingly. And if the drill must be done during the day, make sure it is held at the beginning of a class period. Of course, you will need to emphasize that everyone must *respond* to the drill as if it's a real fire, and that includes full evacuation procedures. Advance warning should not equal a free pass (and there's always that remote chance of a real emergency at the scheduled time); might be worth a written warning that anyone violating the drill procedure will have their lab shut down for a safety hold for a couple days...
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In regards to Margaret Rakas's and Jeff Lewin's comments -
Margaret - "I don't understand concerns over 'losing a day' when drills can be held with students back in the building in roughly 15 minutes or less; ours are usually around 10 minutes (we can evacuate our newest science building in 2 min 32 seconds). "
Comment: If the fire drill occurs in the middle of a chemistry lab, the students' and instructors' first priority should be to make the lab safe - all electrical equipment gets unplugged, all volatile flammables be put in a fume hood or flammables cabinet, etc., BEFORE students can evacuate. This can lead to a loss of a lab day + some chemical waste if the students are unable to reboot their work during that lab period. So, yes, a 15 minute fire drill can result in the loss of a lab day, particularly bad for a lab that meets 15 times per semester (1X per week).
Yes, I have had conversations with my supervisors about my class being the last one out of the building - I also know of a real situation in which people evacuated because of an alarm and returned to find a real fire had started in their absence.
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