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June 26, 2003

Pitt will conduct evacuation drills to comply with a city ordinance.

Pitt is scheduling a series of emergency preparedness evacuation drills to comply with a new ordinance.

City of Pittsburgh Ordinance 29, enacted in February, requires the development and implementation of an All Hazard Plan (AHP) for high-rise buildings within the city limits, more than 300 buildings in all.

Each high-rise building, defined as 7 stories or higher, was required to submit an AHP by May 15. According to Jay Frerotte, director of the Department of Environmental Health and Safety at Pitt. “The University complied by submitting an AHP for all 21 [high-rise] buildings it operates,” Frerotte said. “The ordinance also requires that each high-rise conduct two evacuation drills a year, with the first one done before Aug. 15.”

He said 12 of Pitt’s 21 high-rises are residence halls, which routinely conduct evacuation drills twice a year, including during the last spring term, and so are already in compliance.

The ordinance requires that at least 50 percent of each building’s floors be evacuated during the emergency preparedness drills. Although which floors will be selected for evacuation will not be disclosed prior to the drills, a fire alarm will sound on the affected floors at approximately 8:30 a.m. on the designated day, Frerotte said. “Participation in these exercises has been proven over time to improve response time and enhance order in a real emergency,” he noted.

“We thought for this first one we would alert people of the dates in advance,” Frerotte said. “We’re going to see how it goes before deciding on pre-drill procedures for the next evacuations, which must be done every six months.”

Frerotte stressed that all persons on the affected floors at the time of the drills must participate, even if that area is not the location of their home department or office. He said the city is empowered to levy fines on individuals and on the University for non-participation. City officials are aware of these dates, Frerotte said, and likely will monitor the drills. Work commitments, laziness and recalcitrance are not excuses for failing to evacuate, he said, adding that this regulation also applies to fire drills.

The evacuation drills are expected to last under 30 minutes, he said.

For those employees with special needs, Frerotte recommends registering with Environmental Health and Safety at 412/624-9505. “We have about a dozen [employees] who have already self-identified. They are given individual instructions of who to call and what to say in the event of an emergency that requires evacuation.” Health and safety personnel and the Pitt police are trained in special needs evacuations and response, he added.

Frerotte discourages the voluntary practice of having designated “hall monitors” to check on fellow occupants in the event of an emergency. “Everyone needs to take personal responsibility on this. You should know the emergency exits in your building. If someone thinks someone else will check on them, they tend to rely on that. It also potentially penalizes a person for having to be the last one out in an emergency.”

Regarding general emergency procedures, Frerotte said occupants should never hesitate to pull the fire alarm if they see smoke or flames, and should follow up by dialing the Pitt emergency number 811 from a safe area to describe the incident, then immediately evacuate the building. Occupants also must evacuate if they hear or see an activated alarm signal in their building, even if they believe it is a drill, he said.

“Also, use some common sense. Become familiar with your surroundings and all the exits in your building. Remain calm. If you evacuate a building, get at least 40 feet away from the doors to allow access for emergency personnel. When evacuating, never take an elevator in a building that is under alarm,” he said. “The only exception is if a certified safety official instructs you to use an elevator.”

For more information on the recognition, evaluation and control of all safety, environmental and health concerns, visit the Environmental Health and Safety web site at:

—Peter Hart

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