Kindling a Fire Safety Program: Southern Methodist University Decided to Extinguish Disorganization and Coordinate All Fire Safety Efforts under One Program. (Fire Safety)

By Phelps, E. Floyd | Security Management, May 2002 | Go to article overview

Kindling a Fire Safety Program: Southern Methodist University Decided to Extinguish Disorganization and Coordinate All Fire Safety Efforts under One Program. (Fire Safety)


Phelps, E. Floyd, Security Management


FIRE-SAFETY EFFORTS AT Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Texas were not well coordinated in the mid-1990s. Several departments were responsible for different tasks, with no central goal of fire safety. The 13 residence halls had a program of fire drills and routine maintenance, while the environmental health and safety department coordinated the testing and inspection of fire-safety equipment on the rest of the campus. The SMU Police Department monitored and responded to fire alarms. SMU's electrical engineer coordinated the installation of fire alarms. With sprinkler systems, the university architect and the vendor awarded the contract for installation. The physical plant then supervised the installation and was also responsible for performing minor repairs to sprinkler systems.

In most cases, each group was unaware of what the other departments were doing. If a problem developed, each department felt that the resolution was the responsibility of someone else. Then in the summer of 1997, the Office of Risk Management and Environmental Health and Safety (RMEH&S) at SMU suggested that the university bring its disparate fire-safety efforts together. By coordinating its fire efforts, RMEH&S staff said, SMU could not only improve efficiency but also probably save money by bringing some of the compliance efforts in-house.

A private university founded in 1915, SMU is an urban-based campus of 164 acres and 90 buildings located approximately five miles from downtown Dallas. It has a student population of about 10,000. Of those, 3,500 live on campus.

As fire-safety coordinator, the author was responsible for the implementation of the plan to create a new unified fire-safety program. It took approximately a year for the two staff members of the Fire Safety Division, led by the author, to coordinate with the various departments and persons who deal with fire-safety issues. This program is continually improving and adding new concepts.

The method that SMU used for developing its fire-safety program was based on four "I"s: inventory, inspection, information, and implementation. The following overview highlights what each of these prongs of the program entailed.

Inventory. The first step in developing a new program is to inventory all existing fire suppression and detection equipment. It is important to know what types of equipment you have, by manufacturer and model number, when the equipment was installed, and what exactly it protects. The inventory should also list the location of the controls and any special information that will help someone operate the equipment, such as the location of the floor's water shut-off valve, which may be on a different floor in a janitor's closet, or the location of the electrical breaker that controls the fire alarm.

At the beginning of SMU's fire-safety program planning process, 50 percent of the buildings did not have sprinklers, including half of the residence halls, and the same percentage had no fire alarms. For the buildings with equipment, SMU had the following fire protection systems on campus: 33 fire sprinkler systems, 30 fire alarm systems, 13 chemical kitchen suppression systems, six halon suppression systems, six PIVs (post indicator valves), 38 fire plugs, two fire pumps, and 1,456 fire extinguishers.

The planners also looked at policies and procedures; however, very few procedures had been developed, and no policies were in place when the Fire Safety Division was created. The Office of Residence Life and Student Housing was the only group that had a fairly definite set of procedures, and it was the only department on campus that consistently held emergency evacuation drills.

Inspection. After a complete list of equipment is compiled, the second phase involves the inspection of the inventoried equipment and development of a future inspection plan that will ensure that all fire equipment will be maintained in good working condition. …

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