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. 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Schools with Pools: Risks and Hazards...Who Knows What They Are?


Many educational institutions, both public and private, have swimming pools and they are a vital part of the school community. Whether they are used for swim teams, swimming lessons (essential life skill), or other appropriate aquatic activities they are important to the educational process.  There are hazards associated with pools that schools need to assess to first protect LIFE, next protect School Operations (including aquatic activities), and then protect the School Facility (safe use of the pool facility). 

RISK MITIGATION: There are enhanced RISKS associated with a school pool that can be mitigated if you are aware of the Hazards. Those hazards are drowning; shallow water blackout (hyperventilating and then holding breath during long underwater swims); slips, trips, and falls (running around a pool with wet tile); diving into shallow water, electrocution concerns, chemical hazards in particular unique to chlorine (too much chlorine in the water as an irritant or chlorine gas which can be deadly). During World War One, chlorine gas was purposefully used in gas warfare so the unintended creation of chlorine gas in a confined area can have fatal and legal consequences.

RISK MANAGEMENT: Having an All Hazard Risk Assessment for school pool operations is the key to protecting LIFE, SCHOOL OPERATIONS, and SCHOOL FACILITY. Assessing and educating all to the risks, developing a strategy (education, training, equipment) to mitigate those specific risks, and then assessing that mitigation process as a part of your school's preparedness culture is key.  

HAZMAT POOL RELATED INCIDENT: FRUITLAND TOWNSHIP, Michigan:  On July 11, 2014, the release of chlorine gas from the pool area at Michigan Adventure, a water and amusement park sent 28 people — 18 guests and 10 lifeguards — to the hospital. No severe injuries were reported as the exposure appeared to be minimal. Those taken to the hospital suffered respiratory issues, including mild irritation to the nose ears and lungs. Sixty Two other people are being medically evaluated caused dozens of others to require care on Friday afternoon. Those taken to the hospital, Mercy Health Muskegon, were treated and released said the hospital’s chief medical officer.

CAUSE OF HAZARD: Muskegon County Hazmat official told media sources that two pool chemicals were mixed, causing a chlorine gas cloud. Authorities said the chlorine release was under control late Friday afternoon. A Hazmat official said it was too early to speculate on what caused it, and park employees are investigating. In severe cases, those who come into contact with chlorine could develop a lung condition requiring supported ventilation, but he did not believe that would be necessary in this case. However, the effects of chemical exposure can be delayed, and as a precaution, he warned people to watch for wheeziness and shortness of breath, particularly in children.

MASS CASUALTY HAZMAT MUTUAL AID RESPONSE: Hazmat officials said the people who came into contact with the chlorine were quickly moved to a decontamination area in the parking lot, and given the circumstances, the process went very smoothly.  Authorities brought in a FIRE DEPARTMENT HAZMAT DECONTAMINATION large shower to rinse off people who came into contact with the chlorine. Multiple fire trucks, law enforcement officials and ambulances rushed to the scene around 3:30 p.m. A large shower was brought to the parking lot to help people who had come into contact with the chlorine rinse off, according a First Responder from the Whitehall Rescue unit.

The rest of the park remained open Friday afternoon as a Hazmat team went to test chlorine levels in the pool where the release occurred.  A spokesperson for the park said that it will be open for normal operation Saturday. (Note: If the officials aren't sure of the cause of the Chlorine release, why would they open up the pool section of the park...?????  Here is where parents need to think for themselves.)

RECOVERY: There is always the tendency to overlook the Recovery Phase from any incident because so much energy, emotion, and adrenaline goes into the response. Recovery is the key to returning to safe and secure living. Recovery also reinforces that the system and / or institution legitimately cares about what happened and about who was affected by the incident. The direct victims of an incident are not the only ones affected by an incident. Other affected may be: family members of victims, future customers, or students, parents determining will I let my kids go to that amusement park or school trip, etc.

Points for Consideration: 

  • Could this happen at your school's pool? 
  • Some school's use another facility for their aquatic activities does that change your school's responsibility or accountability?
  • Is there a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between school's if the pool is a shared use facility. 
  • What if this was a school trip to a water park, how would your school trip advisers and approved trip chaperons handle this incident? 
  • Other than the parents of the victims, who is establishing a recovery plan and services for this incident?
  • Prevention: Are there any local, state, or federal laws pertaining to safe school pool operation?
  • Does your school board of education know its role in school pool safety?
  • Is there a school pool safety plan?  (Click Link)

It is about Preparation, Not Paranoia...
enjoy your school pool 
but make sure you are doing it safely 
and professionally.