SEMO to evacuate buildings for drill

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Southeast Missouri State University will clear every campus building for an emergency drill today in what officials say likely will be the first mass evacuation in the school's history.

It will send thousands of students and teachers outdoors at once.

"It will be a wake-up call for people," said Art Wallhausen, associate to the president at Southeast.

But some students feel the campuswide exercise will do little to prepare people for a real emergency.

"To do the whole university all at one time, I think it is going to be madness," said Amanda Barton, a freshman from Jackson, Mo. "I don't think it is going to help at all."

Emily Henley, a sophomore from Jackson, sees little reason to practice evacuating campus buildings.

"I think we are old enough to find an exit," she said as she sat with friends outside the University Center on Monday.

But school officials insist the drill and the brief disruption to campus life is worth it.

Under university president Ken Dobbins, Southeast has placed increased emphasis on emergency preparedness. The university installed seven warning sirens around campus eight months ago. The sirens also work as a public address system and the university has added evacuation siren tones to the $140,000 system.

Sirens to sound

The sirens will be sounded continuously for three minutes to start the evacuation drill at 11:05 a.m., school officials said. A message will alert students, faculty, staff and visitors that this is a test. People will be directed to assembly areas outside the buildings.

About 60 building coordinators wearing bright orange vests will be in the assembly areas to count those who have evacuated.

Doug Richards, Southeast's public safety director, said he hopes the drill can be completed within 15 minutes. Students, faculty and staff then will be able to re-enter the buildings.

Richards said it is important to alert employees and staff to the evacuation tone and train employees and students on how to properly evacuate buildings.

The evacuation drill could prove useful in the event of an earthquake, hazardous chemical spill or even a terrorist attack, Richards said.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the East Coast have focused new attention on the need for emergency preparedness, he said.

"We used to be of the mind-set that it is never going to happen, but after Sept. 11, we can't take anything for granted any more," said Richards.

The drill, he said, will point out where improvements are needed on campus regarding emergency preparedness.

"There will be a lot of mistakes made," he said.

The outdoor sirens aren't designed to be heard indoors, but Richards believes that the sirens are spread around campus to the point that they will be heard inside many of the structures.

The university mailed letters to all students and university employees and posted signs on campus buildings and at parking lots to give advance notice to the emergency drill.

Richards said the university isn't trying to scare or surprise people. Still, not everyone received word.

Frankie Ramsey, a Southeast senior who lives off campus in Cape Girardeau, said Monday he never received a letter and didn't pay attention to any of the posted signs. Ramsey said the drill makes sense, but the university should have done a better job of notifying students.

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