During the month-long return to online classes during the winter term, residents of North and West Halls of Residence experienced disruption during their Zoom classes due to scheduled fire drills.
UW’s Environmental Health & Safety (EH&S) department plans its fire drills around the Seattle Fire Codewhich requires quarterly exercises on the campus. As EH&S tries to schedule fire drills around student life, unforeseen circumstances — like a rapid return to online classes — can make it difficult to ensure no one is negatively affected.
“Fire drills are required by law to be quarterly,” said Drew Zimmerman, assistant director of maintenance and operations at EH&S. “There’s one for fall, winter, spring, and summer quarters.” They are scheduled a year in advance.
Online courses are not the only factor taken into account when planning exercises. According to Zimmerman, the different uses of residence halls also play a role.
“We could have met our requirements and finished them before class at 6 or 7 a.m., but I think we would have received similar complaints, if not more, doing it then,” Zimmerman said. “It’s hard to make everyone happy in these, but we also need to plan around the sites of our building. It’s important that we don’t do this in the middle of a breakfast rush or the lunch. ”
Many campus residents take online classes from their dorms. Thus, during the fire drill, many students suffered an interruption during class time.
“I’ve definitely seen several students come out with their laptops in class,” Zimmerman said. “I recognize that it was probably a nuisance. The online courses for the winter term were not necessarily something we had planned with the fire drills… Looking back, I think there are steps we could have taken with the online courses.
In addition to the city’s fire code, the university is also tied to its fire drill programming by UW administrative policyaccording to Scott Nelson, fire safety and engineering manager for EH&S.
“Factors that can determine when exercises take place are usually operations within [or] around the building and staff availability,” Nelson wrote in an email. “Other restrictions may also exist, such as for dormitories, the first exercise of each year must be completed within 10 days of the start of classes.”
EH&S has the ability to change fire drill times, but due to the temporary nature of online classes, Nelson and his team have not changed the schedule.
“Fire drills can absolutely be moved once planned depending on the circumstances,” Nelson wrote. “However, this was a potentially unique situation for the winter 2022 term related to taking classes remotely while being in their dorms. We keep these things in mind when planning our next set of exercises.
Contact contributing writer Vivian Ouzounis at [email protected] Twitter: @vivian_ouzounis
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