Illustrations: Drew Albinson
Chances are you’ve been through drills to prepare yourself for a fire or a tornado. It’s probable you know what actions to take when you’re feeling under the weather. But are you prepared for situations beyond the more run-of-the-mill crises?
On its website, Drake University provides a guide for the Boy Scout, or Girl Scout, in us all, giving instructions for what to do in several variations of an emergency. According to the general reference guide, “an emergency is any situation — actual or imminent — that endangers the safety and lives of Drake faculty, staff, students, visitors or the security of Drake property.” Grab your Swiss army knife, first-aid kit, all-purpose antibiotics and pocket dictionary as you read on to prepare yourself for nearly any urgent situation.
What do I do if…
An airplane crashes
The scenario: On its way to Des Moines International Airport a Boeing 737-300 Jet from Delta Airlines is the victim of an operator error. A large shadow looms over students rushing from Howard Hall to Meredith Hall, already late for their political science 001 class. They glance overhead to see the plane nosedive directly into the building’s steely, black exterior. This one totally counts as an excused absence.
Follow the plan: Take cover to protect yourself from flying debris. If you’re inside the building and are able to, activate the fire alarm. Evacuate the building and surrounding area as quickly as possible because the accident scene has a large potential for fire and/or explosion if it didn’t already happen on impact. Make sure to notify authorities of any missing persons. Complete evacuation of campus may be deemed necessary, but will only occur when it is safe and if it does not hinder emergency response operations.
There is a long-term power outage
The scenario: Iowa has bestowed upon the campus another one of its impulsive acts of severe weather. But this time, occasionally flickering lights drop into full-on darkness. It’s been several hours since student residence halls have seen the light, and things are starting to get uncomfortable.
Follow the plan: Keep refrigerators and freezers closed to prevent spoiling their contents, and unplug your computer to avoid any damage caused by a sudden power surge. Send someone to check the elevators for trapped persons and notify security if somebody is stuck in there. Also, consider hanging out for a while to talk to them. You think you’ve been inconvenienced by the lack of microwavable popcorn? They’re alone in a dark, confined space for an indefinite period of time. Show some compassion.
There is a suspicious person on campus
The scenario: As dusk falls, groups of underclassmen are wandering back to the residence halls from a Hubbell fine dining experience chock-full of stir-fry and softserve. But peering across Helmick Commons, they spot a suspicious figure who obviously doesn’t belong on campus. He is moving toward them, glancing around sketchily and clutching what appears to be a gun.
Follow the plan: Take cover in the nearest building, and calmly warn others to conceal themselves as well. (“Calmly” is a relative term here meaning “preferably without throwing everyone into an extreme panic and calling the shady person’s attention to you.”) Close and barricade doors. Call 911 and stay on the line until the dispatcher tells you to hang up. Remain where you are as long as you are safe, and a campus security or Des Moines police officer will notify you when the incident has ended. Note: the Emergency Response Plan explicitly reminds readers, “Do not look out to see what is happening.’” You can watch it all on CNN later. Right now, just stay hidden in a safe place.
There’s a chemical spill
The scenario: A lab instructor in Harvey-Ingham Hall stumbles while carrying a large container of hydrochloric acid to the basement storage area. The barrel-sized vat is fumbled and falls. Upon impact, it breaks open and the clear liquid instantly begins to eat away at the floor. It’s crackling, snapping and popping. In the surrounding halls, organic chemistry students are scampering as their lab instructors pull those celebrated, stylish white coats up over their faces. A pungent odor permeates the air.
Follow the plan: DO NOT TOUCH. Trained personnel should be contacted to assist in the clean up. All materials that made contact with the chemical such as paper towels, shoes or clothing are considered hazardous waste and must be disposed of accordingly. The Environmental, Health and Safety Office can be reached at 515-271-3125. In the case of a major spill, as in the incident above, the area must be evacuated and campus security should also be notified by calling 811.
There is a hostage situation
The scenario: A sketchy dude forces you and your friends to accompany him into Lower Olmsted. It’s the perfect place to execute his diabolical plan in secret because NO ONE IS EVER THERE. He ushers you into a conference room and gruffly explains you’re being held for a $100,000 ransom.
Follow the plan: The Emergency Response Plan actually gives a page full of advice for people who have been taken hostage. Some of the suggestions include being cooperative and patient, and speaking in a low, gentle voice. It also advises keeping body gestures slow and non-threatening while maintaining eye contact. Avoid arguing or judging. In addition, take as many mental notes about the person as you can. Notice how many weapons he is carrying, his state of mind and the things he says, as well as details about the place you’re being held. This information can be useful in helping others should you escape or be released. Also, you can wait to update your Facebook status or send a tweet until after the situation has been diffused. #beingheldhostage is not a viable trending topic.
There is a an earthquake
The scenario: At first, you thought it was a simple case of self-imposed over-caffeination. But no, your entire table in the Cowles Reading Room is quivering and books are starting to tremble and fall off the shelves. You look around the room to see your study buddies becoming alarmed as well. They’re all from the Twin Cities, what do they know about earthquakes? Where’s that one transfer student from USC when you need her?
Follow the plan: The Emergency Response Plan informs readers that, “The Des Moines area does periodically experience brief minor tremors,” and can be affected by activity in the San Madras fault in Missouri. Who knew? Should this occur, take cover under a desk or table and brace yourself, moving with your cover if it moves. Try to avoid windows and objects likely to fall. When the shaking ends, move outside carefully, watching for falling materials, downed power lines and unstable ground. Notify emergency personnel of any missing or injured persons.
The official plan
The official Drake University Emergency Response Plan does not appear online, a precaution taken to keep some emergency procedure plans out of the wrong hands, said Chief of Security Hans Hanson. This Plan is actually much shorter than the online guide, spanning around 10 pages.
Unlike the document the advice above is derived from, the Emergency Response Plan is much less situation-specific. Instead, it establishes a chain-of-command system and organizes a structure by which all urgent situations are handled. Hanson calls it an “all hazards plan” and says its versatility is the key to its effectiveness.
“It’s a flexible plan where you can change and adjust as the emergency changes,” he says. “The key response team gets together no matter what, and we’ll figure it out from there.”