The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Staying informed — how UNC prepares in an emergency

Lenoir dining hall lost power today.

Lenoir dining hall lost power today.

North Campus buildings lost power in the midst of a thunderstorm Monday morning. While power was restored relatively quickly, there is still no information on the cause of the outage. 

"I didn't feel informed. I was in class and the light went out, and I saw there was a light on in the hallway so it felt good that I knew there was some emergency lighting available but a lot of the floor I was on was not lit," said Danielle Weber, a first-year PhD student who was in Davie Hall when the power went out.

"We went to the secretary and they didn't really know what was going on, so I really wish that someone would have stopped by and told us what was happening." 

No Alert Carolina messages were sent out about the power outage.

In January, another power outage occurred after a facilities worker was injured in an arc fire incident in Dey Hall. Power went out in some Central and North Campus buildings, including many dorms. 

Students living in the residence halls affected by the power outage were not permitted to sleep in their dorms that night and instead were instructed to find somewhere else to stay or to sleep in the basement of Cobb. Power was restored later that evening and students were able to return to their dorms. 

Associate Director of Housing and Residential Education Rick Bradley said during the outage, there was only emergency lighting in the basement of Cobb, which influenced their decision to bunk students there. 

"Since the outage was expected to be 24 hours or so, initially (bunking students in Cobb basement) was the assumption," he said. "Each community has a response for what they would do with residents."

In order to inform students on the latest updates when emergencies occur on campus, Residence Hall Association President Taylor Bates said the RHA turns to social media to reinforce Alert Carolina messages and echo the official news sources. 

Bates encourages students to turn to their community staff in the event of emergency.

“They are very well equipped to handle those things and they have (the residents') safety and well-being at the top of their mind," he said. 

In regard to power outages, Bradley said when isolated to a smaller area such as a suite or a floor, resident advisors have access to a breaker box that would allow them to restore power. 

However, for larger outages, he said that they take their lead from the University on whether to advise students to shelter in place or to find other arrangements. 

"It all sort of ebbs and flows whether it is 300 students, or 3,000 students," he said.

As far as making other arrangements, Bradley said the University would likely tap Chapel Hill resources such as shelters, fill open residence hall spaces as they were available or possibly start to look at large spaces such as gymnasiums to temporarily bunk a large number of students.

Bradley said ensuring the immediate safety of students is only one of the challenges when it comes to emergencies on campus.

“The response often times by the University is comprehensive,” he said. “It's not just handling the emergency itself and where do you put students but it's then handling students’ responses to that situation and the impact that it has on them."

University Fire Marshal David Guynn said he focuses on prevention of and preparedness for fire emergencies. 

Some of these efforts include regular residence hall inspections, quarterly fire drills, emergency procedure training for the resident advisers and active communication of the presence of students with disabilities or impaired mobility to emergency responders.

As far as the Dey Hall incident, Guynn said the fire safety and protection systems installed in campus buildings such as the fire alarm and sprinkler systems were operable even after the power went out.

Both Bradley and Guynn said no contingency plan changes were made after the Dey Hall fire. Guynn said he thought building operators and the Department of Public Safety responded well. 

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

“In general, you can't prevent every incident that happens on campus or really anywhere, so the only thing we can do is make sure that all of our folks did what they were supposed to,” Guynn said.

Guynn stressed the importance of educating students and housing staff on fire safety procedures. He said they conduct training events such as the Fire Safety Fair to inform students on what do in case of a fire. He also said housing staff is required to attend training on fire safety.

“Every year, we do about an hour-long session with the RA's talking about what's allowed, what's not allowed, what the common sources of fire alarms are in buildings, hazards — and then we spend a lot of time with them on how to use fire extinguishers — every RA puts out a fire with a fire extinguisher to make sure they're competent in doing that," he said.

Thanks to the work of the fire safety team, first year Vi Le said if there was an emergency in the residence halls, she felt prepared. 

“In our dorms, behind the door, there is an emergency escape plan that I saw so I think I would be pretty prepared and would know where to go," she said.