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Facilities and Campuses

Carl Pramuk

Dean of Students

Gallaudet University

 

I’d like to begin by welcoming you to Gallaudet University.  We're so glad to see you here.  I hope that you will have an opportunity to see our beautiful campus and I’m very proud to work here.

 

I have been asked to talk specifically about campuses and how they deal with different issues that they confront in dealing with emergencies.  I am happy to provide our perspective here at Gallaudet University.  I am the Dean of Students; I am responsible for the campus in terms of the dorms and the residence halls, and I’m also a member of the university’s Crisis Management Team.  With those two roles there are a variety of issues that present themselves.  I’m happy to see that there’s a variety of products available on the market that can help provide solutions to those issues.  But we still face some of the same types of issues that you have.   

 

Gallaudet is a four-year liberal arts college.  It was established in 1864 by an act of Congress.  Our programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate deaf or hard-of-hearing students.  There are 1,800-plus students, primarily deaf or hard-of-hearing, and 60-plus students and employees also have vision impairments.

 

Our campus is different than other campuses, so that presents the first point:  You can’t adapt a plan to fit a place without observing the environment first, who the population is.  Some Federal agencies have a lot of employees.  Their solutions might be different than a workplace that has one employee; it depends on what the particular environment is.  So what you will see in this presentation is how we have dealt with issues on our campus.  I want to preface this by saying that our solutions might not be applicable to all campus environments.

 

In the '70s and '80s the most serious emergency that we had was perhaps a trashcan fire, and you had to crawl to get out.  It was very minor, even though back then it would have been classified as major.   

 

But as the Provost mentioned this morning, more recently we've had murders on our campus; the D.C. - area sniper; September 11 that hit New York and the Pentagon.  We've had a variety of things that impacted our campus and the surrounding area.  So we had to review our emergency plan and realize that we had to do a lot more work.

 

Prior to that, what we used is noted here on the slide.  We have a strobe light notification which works great when you are awake, so the issue was the time when you are sleeping (and our next speaker will address that).  We do have door bell alarms so that if someone is at the door, you know that by a flashing door light.  Also we have an alert notification that was through pager, cell phone, or e-mail.  You have to subscribe or sign up for the service and one department sends out the messages, so if there is a snow-closing emergency, that notification would be done through e-mail, cell phone, or pager. 

 

Now, I am going to talk about issues that we were confronted with 9/11 and post-9/11.  We had realized we had new issues had emerged, for example, 9/11 network congestion.  The network traffic was very high, and communication between Crisis Management Team members was not functional.  There was so much traffic that the messages arrived hours later.  When an emergency meeting was called, we weren’t aware of it. 

 

The second point is the issue of signal strength with pagers.  In my office, the signal strength was not very good.  In my office, my desk is in one corner and on the opposite side of my office there is a conference table.  With the layout of my office, there are only two positions where the pager will work.  I have to either put it on the printer, which is near my desk in the corner; or I have to put it on one of the chairs on the opposite side of the room.  If I am wearing it in a different location within the room, it won't work.  So that's a serious issue.  It's very limiting to have just two very specific locations where I can use my pager. 

 

We’ve researched notification systems.  In other universities, a voice public address system is often used for the notification system.  Here, that is not helpful.  If there was an emergency in the campus there would be a visual alarm, usually for fire.  If you have a biological or chemical threat, that will not work:  The reason is that we as deaf people have learned from the elementary school all the way to the college level, that when you see the strobe alarm go off, it means fire and you exit the building, that is the procedure that everyone follows.  If students leave their building during a chemical or biological threat, it makes matters worse.  It is important to have a different solution when you need to communicate to shelter in place.

 

Another issue involves deaf-blind students, deaf-blind notification.  We're a visual environment, because we're dealing with deaf and hard-of-hearing students.  So this is another issue we are trying to address. 

 

Students who are in wheelchairs present another issue.  We've addressed that by means of having a sub-committee that has proposed different solutions.  One is that wheelchair users will go to a safe area, and the police or fire department will carry them downstairs.  But many of these students did not like this solution, this type of intervention.  We’re revising the policy on having people who need help with steps having to wait for security to arrive. 

 

Our Crisis Management Team met and we laid out many different types of solutions and recommendations.  We developed a manual that talks about different procedures.  But really the key issue we talked about was communication:  specific methods of how we provide information that should be good and reliable instead of relying on one solution.  You need to have different means of notification.  If the first one doesn’t work, then there is a secondary backup.  As I explained about my pager that doesn’t work in certain areas, we need to have a back-up system.

 

We're looking for different technological solutions, and you will see some of those solutions on the exhibit tables.  Some things that we have either applied or are considering applying:

 

Cable TV interrupt.  We have campus cable TV and cable lines throughout the campus, and we have control centralized in one place.  We are able to interrupt the programming to let them know something is happening.  That's really a great solution.  That was one of the first things that we did.  So for example, if students are in the cafeteria watching ESPN, we can let them know something is happening.  That is one back-up solution.

 

Improved signal strength for mobile devices:  We also have new network towers set up by such carriers as NexTel, Cingular, and T-Mobile, on campus.  This has greatly improved our reception.  So instead of having to worry about my pager working only in two positions in my office, I can walk around and use my pager in many areas of my office.  It’s much better. 

 

Computer interrupt.  We work a lot with our computers, as many of you do, and while on the computer there can be a pop-up with emergency information.  Let's say that I am working on the presentation for this conference, and there is some kind of warning.  I wouldn't know that.  So there is an interrupt, and even though I am not working online, with this notification system from TCS Associates and NXi, it will automatically pop up with the emergency information. 

 

Sometimes there is a red flag about such systems – we must also worry about Internet security where hackers outside can come in do serious damage.  So it's really important for our Information Technology Department to be able to learn from these companies that have been involved with agencies such as the Department of Defense.  If the Department of Defense can trust this company to implement something, we feel that we can trust the company also. 

 

Another product I’ve learned about in my research for the Crisis Management Team is the Pb World Com Alert Emergency Notification System.  This is connected with NOAA alerts, Amber Alert messages, and civil emergencies.  It can also include your own internal organizational announcements.  It can be sent to your computer, and also can be used on strategically placed LCD screens throughout campus.

 

Special transmitters and individual receivers:  This is a solution that we're looking at now in terms of mobility disabilities and being able to allow people to get to safety.  How can a deaf person in a deaf environment, who is a wheelchair user, communicate if there is no one there to help them down the steps?  If everyone has left, or if a person is working alone in a lab and an emergency happens, and the lab is on the fourth floor, and that person  starts going down the steps and encounters a wheelchair user.  .  We need to have a plan and place those emergency chairs so they can be readily used in case of a situation like that.  We need to have a sensor or a button that can be pushed when they need help, so that someone can come and assist.  What we have now is an emergency button to press to indicate that they need help, and that someone will come and assist.  Perhaps you remember what college is like in terms of alcohol used, or people want to go out and have a fun time, they want to go play with the button.  You can't lock up the equipment; it needs to be accessible.  If the sensor is set off, and there is no emergency, then security will know that someone has tampered with it. 

 

One thing about some solutions that are out there in terms of pagers or other devices, the worry is that if you want to contact these individuals, some people have the devices, some people don't have them.  There is a variety of pager preferences.  Different people prefer different communication means, and as a university we have to get the word out to communicate to students.  I would like the university to give all students something to use.  One thing we’ve noticed is that all students have a keychain because they have a key to their room.  Why not have some small device attached to their room key that we provide?  We have seen some products with a panic button that informs Security and lets them know the exact location of the person who pushed the panic button.  There is a pager ID that is connected to the user, and when the button is pushed, their face or image will appear at security, letting them now they have an emergency.  This can also work if there is an emergency, where security can make the keychain vibrate or make a sound, letting the person know there is an emergency.  One university has something like this and it cost about $800,000 to put in these different specialized transmitters throughout the campus.  You have to install them every 150 yards, so you can have two or three of those which can triangulate and determine the location.

 

Color coding visual signals:  At the Texas School for the Deaf, they had a visual strobe, and there were three colors attached to the strobe for three different purposes.  Blue was to let you know that class is over, it's time to change classes; yellow was emergency; white was all clear – that meant it’s okay.  They could see it via television, or via the computer, that is the interrupt system for both of those.  People knew that color coding by heart.  I mean, I'm not a student there now, but I can still remember from my day being in a school system and having these color codes.

 

Now Gallaudet is considering a color-coded system on campus of this nature.  Suppose there is an emergency and I should not leave the campus.  Let's say that the student is sleeping, or sitting in a dorm room and the computer is not on.  The pager is not on.  The key chain has been put aside.  What's left?  We can't use the strobe light because that's for fire alarm.  They don't want me to get out of the building.  So by means of having this three-color alarm, it gives us some help.  It's something to consider.  It's something to think about. 

 

There are other considerations that we want to think about.  What means of notification do you have to inform deaf or hard-of-hearing, and deaf-blind persons of an emergency in process?  That's the first part.

 

And then the second part is, after you've alerted people, how are you communicating during the aftermath, during the response?  That's the other part.  An example was from Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita.  Diane Morton will talk with you tomorrow and share her experiences when she went there, and she mentioned that in the Astrodome people arrived, there were deaf people that were there in the Astrodome, and, unfortunately, officials didn't realize they were deaf.  There was no communication set up.  There was a PA system to let people know what was happening to let them know that food was being served and other information.  But information was given only over the PA system.  So deaf people were left out of this information.  There were no interpreters.  Those who were evacuated from the hurricane had communication before arriving at the Astrodome, but then how did communication happen among those there?

 

This is, in brief, our experience.  We appreciate working with you, talking with you, analyzing these different things for consideration, looking for possible solutions, and we look to see what can come ahead.

 

Questions and Answers

 

Peg Blechman, U.S. Access Board:  You've explained what you have for students with disabilities, and I'm assuming that also covers faculty.  What about visitors who come to campus who have different types of disabilities?  How do you connect them into your notification system? 

 

CARL PRAMUK:  That's one issue that we do have – and not only about visitors, but also students who don't want to disclose that they have a particular disability who are on campus.  So we have about emergency procedures on our website.  We have the same procedures for visitors and students – safe areas, signage, buddy system in some cases, so on.  So it doesn't matter you whether are a visitor or a student, if you work here, it's the same type of policy and system. 

 

Jen Sutton:  First, I'd like to say I'm glad to see that you have those evacuation chairs for individuals that use wheelchairs.  I have been using a wheelchair for 20 years, and when I was at Gallaudet, there were classes that were on the second and third floors in buildings that did not have elevators, and sometimes they had to move the classes down to the first floor.  Sometimes wheelchair users were assigned to rooms in the girls' dorms on the second and third floors, and we didn't have elevators.  So there were times that rooms were moved because of safety issues that we had to consider.  Have you considered that? 

 

CARL PRAMUK:  We did put the Office for Students with Disabilities in a first floor office.  And in terms of ADA compliance, we move classes if necessary.  Now for students by personal preference who don't want to be on the first floor or a dormitory, and want to be with their friends in the residence hall, or near a particular computer classroom that might be on an upper floor, we don't tell them that they can't.  Some labs are on upper floors; for example, the biology lab.  That cannot be moved to a lower floor.  And there are chemical gas lines.  So there are potentials still there that we need to address through such things as the evacuation chair. 

 

Elizabeth Spiers,  American Association for the Deaf and Blind:  Could you please explain a little bit more about how you find out when students are deaf and blind on campus, and if you could talk more about how you reach out to them?  How is it that you get information to students who are deaf and blind, or staff who are deaf and blind -- because I know that you have a variety of students on campus with varying degrees of vision loss. 

 

CARL PRAMUK:  We have a variety of methods.  For instance, with the fire alarm, the strobe lights in the residential halls, it doesn't necessarily meet the needs of those with visual impairments.  So there, the strobe is connected to a vibrating device so that they can either have a visual or a vibrating alarm, or a fan.  Also, those Deaf-Blind students or faculty members, in you are in a lab or talking with friends, the common signal that there is an emergency is to touch the person in the form of an "X" on the side of the person's arm.  Then they will recognize immediately it's an emergency, and that they have to respond.  Another way which is key, is the buddy system.  So we have set up the buddy system.  And we also talk with our students about being good neighbors, about helping each other.  So on my floor if I know that there is a Deaf-Blind student and I know that there is an emergency, I will help assist them getting to safety.  Those are just examples of how we use emergency notification system with deaf-blind students. 

           

Now, for emergency messaging, we'll make text larger for those low-vision students.  We have the technology where they can blowup the text and font size.  We have those installed in offices and equipment, and we also have Braille services where it can be converted to Braille.  So those are some of the options

 

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