Safety drills, they’ve become just another part of the school routine. Follow the teacher’s directions, leave the classroom quickly and safely, and head for a designated meeting place outside. But disaster doesn’t always strike during classtime. It can strike during an assembly, a pep rally, the big soccer game. What then?
At Wisconsin’s Menomonee Falls High School, spectators will know what to do then too, thanks to a planning tool implemented during the 2013-2014 school year.
Developed through the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security (NCS4) at the University of Southern Mississippi, SportEvac is a low-cost planning and drilling tool that creates site-specific 3-D simulations of sporting venues to assist schools with developing evacuation plans and creating drills that implement those plans. The high school in Menomonee Falls, a village of more than 35,000 people that is part of the greater Milwaukee area, is the first secondary school in the United States to use the software. (A number of colleges and universities already use it.) The school has plans in place for the 3,500-seat football stadium, the 1,200-seat soccer stadium, and the 1,600-seat gymnasium, and plans for the remainder of the school’s sporting venues and the auditorium will be in place by the start of the 2014-2015 academic year. Discussions about implementing the tool in the district’s middle school and four elementary schools are ongoing.
“Sport Evac takes our Autocad drawings and creates 3-D models. It looks at exits, accessibility and traffic patterns. When we run a drill, it times how long it takes to evacuate,” says Menomonee Falls Athletic Director Ryan Anderson. “I travelled to Mississippi for program training, and the developers worked with my team and showed us how to add features and to refine the plans as necessary. We’ll use it to run drills on an ongoing basis, and every event worker has to sign off that they’ve watched our training video on how to evacuate.”
At a recent all-school assembly in honor of the volleyball team’s winning the state championship, Menomonee Falls ran a drill. It took less than two minutes to evacuate 1,600 persons from the gym, Anderson says, although he expects it would take somewhat longer at a sporting event where the spectators included parents and other non-students who will have to take their cues from event workers.
“Whenever the school does an evacuation drill, we notify the fire department, and the chief was certainly surprised we were doing an evacuation from the gym because we’d never done one before. He was also surprised by how smoothly it went,” Anderson says. The athletic director works closely with the fire department and with Menomonee Falls’ school resource officer when planning the drills, and he will make a full report on the tool’s effectiveness at this summer’s annual planning meeting that includes the school leadership team, the school district superintendent, the fire chief and the Menomonee Falls police chief. This same group tasked him with coming up with an evacuation plan a year ago.
“I had just finished my first year as athletic director, and at this meeting, we were discussing evacuations and the group asked me to come up with a formal plan for sporting events. At the same time, I was involved in leadership training where all the participants were challenged to come up with a way to save the school district $15,000,” Anderson says. (For example, a soft savings for potential injury can exceed more than $100,000 per person injured.) “I talked to the other schools in our athletic conference and found that not one of them had a written plan for sporting events. I researched our options and learned about this simulation model, and I was just floored to find out we were the first high school in the country to use it.”
Because of its status as the inaugural high school to use the tool, the district has been selected by NCS4 for the National High School Sport Safety and Security Facility of Merit Award, “when I report back to the planning group this summer on what I did, I think they will be pleased.”
Although the service is not free, the cost is relatively low, and Menomonee Falls is using beverage vendor proceeds that traditionally have gone to the athletic programs to finance the project: “This purchase will serve the school well for a long time.”