Friday, July 18, 2014

School Evacuation...You Never Know When...?

School Gas Leak Incident: (Derby, Connecticut) At approximately 9:53 am on Thursday July 17th, Derby High School was evacuated due to a natural gas leak reported at the school. 911 was called so the Police Department and Fire Department were dispatched and responded as the school was being evacuated to an adjacent school, Derby Middle School.  The School Superintendent issued a press release stating that all emergency procedures were followed by the school and no one was injured with school resuming operations later that afternoon.

Cause of Gas Leak: An extermination company (a third party contractor) was drilling into the foundation outside of the school and possibly ruptured the gas line according to media reporting. At present it is believed that the workers reported the gas leak to school officials who activated 911 response while evacuating the school.  

Points for Consideration / Discussion

  • School incidents can occur at any time, when you least expect it, and can be when it is most inconvenient. (During summer school, adult education classes in the evening, during a parent teacher conference, during a school play, band competition, or an indoor or outdoor sporting event.) 
  • Typically one of the school administrators are responsible for the oversight of the cleanliness and maintenance of school facility and should be kept apprised of all work done on, in, or outside of the school. 
    • Those functions have impacts on deliveries (routine or not routine), IT installations, repairs and maintenance, alarm systems and camera repairs or upgrades, snow removal or salting, and landscaping. Those activities can result in people not normally associated with the daily functioning of the school to have access to the school facility or exposure to underage student body which should be a security consideration
    • The School Administrator who is responsible for the facility, should always discuss and maintain situational awareness of work to be done with their Head Custodian or Head Facilities worker at the school. That school administrator should ask basic supervisory questions of any maintenance activities that will take place. IF digging is to take place, everyone should ask "Who notified the utilities company to ensure it is safe to dig, before we dig?" This isn't micromanagement but responsible supervision by query.
  • Typically when the school is operating outside of the standard school schedule (summer, after school hours, nights, and weekends), there is not as many supervisors or as much emphasis placed on safety and security. It is important to not confuse enthusiasm with capability here. Part of any event should be a discussion with all participants on Evacuation, Lock Down, Lock Out, and Shelter in Place. This should be followed by a drill or walk through / talk through rehearsal. 
  • Being aware in an "olfactory" way: Anything that smells out of the ordinary should be reported immediately. A gas leak or an electrical fire are often identified by an unusual smell first. A gas leak by an HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) intake valve could send natural gas or fumes throughout a facility rapidly. 
  • May people feeling sick at once. Or if numerous occupants of the building feel dizzy, light-headed, or have headaches; this needs to be reported immediately. If a school nurse or trainer is present, multiple people complaining of those ailments should trigger your reporting and possible recommendation to evacuate to get fresh air. 
  • Remember, anyone can and should call 911 if there is a security or safety threat. Never assume someone else did. 
  • How would an evacuation go during:
    • Summer School ? Summer Academy?
    • Indoor School Graduation?
    • Parent Teacher Conferences at Night?
    • Friday Night Basketball Game with a packed gym?
    • After school program at your school?  
  • Some Other Helpful Questions for Incidents at Off Peak Hours:
    • During school off hours, who specifically is in charge of everyone else? 
    •  Who is the person in charge of conferring with First Responders when they arrive. 
    • Does the person who is in charge, know they are in charge? Do they know their role during an incident?
    • Does part of their (non school district organizations) Memorandum Of Understanding (in the case of an after school or community program use of the school) require them to notify anyone in the School District Central Office if an incident occurs? 
    • Who (specific persons) do they notify and how (specific contact information during the off hours)?

Could this incident have been prevented? If a gas line was ruptured during indoor or outdoor drilling, then the answer is YES. Conferring with the public utility company or building engineer (indoor work) prior to any digging can identify no-drill areas for safety purposes. 

While the incident in Derby was minor, what if there had been an explosion and injuries? The same type of questions (see above) would be asked during an investigation, and most likely during a cross examination in a criminal trial or civil suit so they are worthy of consideration know.

It is about Preparation, nor Paranoia. Prevention is so much better than a well executed Response. 

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