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Why you need to know how to evacuate, shelter in place and secure in place to better prepare for an emergency situation on campus.

By Janelle Hanson, managing editor, University of Utah Communications

You’re in class on campus or in a work meeting when the shrill sound of the fire alarm begins to blare. You don’t smell smoke or see fire, so you think “is this a drill?” and you continue doing what you were doing.

“There is no such thing as a false alarm and ignoring one often wastes time when you should be taking protective action,” Stuart Moffatt, University of Utah Emergency Management associate director said. “You have to react to every fire alarm as if it’s real because you never know if it’s an emergency situation or a drill.”

Every year Emergency Management partners with departments across campus for no-notice drills testing the university’s Emergency Response Plan and fire equipment. It isn’t always at the most convenient times for everyone, but it’s state law and university policy.

“Yes, it can be inconvenient, but when lives are in the balance, knowing what to do in crisis or an emergency is extremely important,” Jeff Graviet University of Utah Emergency Management director said. “During an emergency is not the time to start asking yourself ‘what do I do?’”

What do you do in an emergency?

There are three basic protective actions everyone should learn and know:

  • Evacuate
  • Shelter in place
  • Secure in place

Download the U Heads Up! app for more info on what those actions mean.

During an evacuation, where do you go and who to check-in with?

If you’re unsure where to go, visit the campus map, click on “map features,” select “campus safety” and turn on Emergency Assembly—which then shows all Emergency Assembly Points (EAP) for every building on campus.

These rally points are where you should go during an evacuation.

Information may also be posted near most building entrances listing protective actions to take during a situation and a map detailing EAPs.

Additionally, if you download the U Heads Up! app, you have access to this and an emergency checklist handy right on your cellphone.

Most buildings also have Emergency Response Coordinators (ERC)—or a designated person you should be checking in with once you have evacuated the building and made it to an EAP.

If you don’t know who your ERC is, ask your manager.

How will the university communicate with you during an emergency?

The university will notify you of emergent situations via Campus Alerts. You’ll receive a text message and/or email.

When you logged into CIS earlier this month, you were prompted to update your cell phone information to receive emergency messages. This is crucial because you’ll receive details about the status of events and what protective actions you should be taking.

“We learned last October during the homicide that we need to continue sending information, even if there isn’t any change and the message is to continue to secure in place or continue to stay out of specific areas on campus,” Graviet said.  “Moving forward, in those type of emergencies, we will be communicating every 20-30 minutes.”

Why should I know the protective actions and follow them?

The safety of those on campus is always a top priority and as the saying goes “practice makes perfect.” The no-notice drills help everyone learn from the exercise and focus on what protective actions to take for a real event.

“We want a safe and disaster-resilient campus,” Moffatt said. “We prioritize life safety as the single most important thing we can do for our campus community.”

For more information, visit