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BMC to test emergency siren next Wednesday

If you plan to be on the Bryn Mawr campus next Wednesday, April  30, at about 3 p.m., be prepared: the College plans to test its recently acquired emergency siren, which is mounted atop Canaday Library.

The siren, a key element of the College's emergency-response system, uses radio technology to produce a warning tone and a voice message through four powerful omnidirectional speakers.

According to Director of Public Safety Mike Hill, the siren will alert members of the Bryn Mawr community that a message has been sent through the e2Campus system. Those who have registered for e2Campus notifications will receive text messages and/or e-mails; the same messages will appear on the Bryn Mawr College home page and the gateway pages for students, faculty members, staff members, and parents.

The e2Campus system will be tested along with the siren next Wednesday.

The siren, manufactured by Whelen Engineering, is capable of producing a sound intensity of about 120 decibel—the equivalent of the sound level in front-row seats at a loud rock concert—at 100 feet . Its range at 60 decibels—the equivalent of normal conversation—is about 7,200 feet.

The decibel range makes the siren audible throughout the Bryn Mawr campus and a bit beyond, but not loud enough to cause hearing damage beyond Canaday's rooftop, says Environmental Health and Safety Officer Don Abramowitz.

Hill says that Haverford has purchased a similar siren, and the two colleges have agreed to use the same sound as a warning tone so that its significance will be the same on either campus. Hill is also working with colleagues at the Shipley and Baldwin schools and Harcum College to coordinate emergency communications, since the schools' proximity makes it likely that any emergency situation would affect all three schools.

A silent test of Bryn Mawr's siren, which ensured that it was picking up the radio signal, has already been conducted, Hill says.

The system includes a backup generator so that the siren can still be sounded in the event of a power outage as well as a second radio transmitter that is kept in a different location in case the Public Safety Department's offices in the Maloney Building are inaccessible.

"In the worst-case scenario, we also have bullhorns, and we have investigated every possible means of communication, including the housekeeping staff's walkie-talkies," Hill says.

"Emergency response is like a living, breathing thing," says Hill. "You have to re-examine it and tend to it all the time."

Hill is part of an emergency-response  working group that regularly discusses new technologies and issues as they arise.

"We did a tabletop exercise in January with the Lower Merion Township Police, the Bryn Mawr Fire Department, and all kinds of emergency responders on our campus," Hill says. "It went pretty well, and we plan to do tests and exercises once or maybe twice a year. We learn things from every test. Hopefully, we'll never have to put that knowledge to use."


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Posted 4/24/2008 by Claudia Ginanni