Complying With the Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act (Part 1 of 2)

With the recently passed Higher Education Opportunity Act, campus fire safety programs are in the public spotlight. Now is the time for colleges and universities to improve their reporting procedures and upgrade their fire safety solutions.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), colleges and universities across the United States average more than 3,300 fires per year, and more than 129 students have died in campus fires since 1999. For too many campuses, these hard statistics become a grave reality, as in the case of New Jersey’s Seton Hall University — in 2000, three people died and more than 50 were injured in a student housing fire.

The Seton Hall fire and outside interest groups have ignited federal government action. President George W. Bush signed the Higher Education Opportunity Act in August 2008, including provisions from the Campus Fire Safety Right-to-Know Act, which will require higher education institutions to annually report fire safety information to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).

Specifically, campuses will be required to publicly provide:

  • Statistics for each on-campus student housing facility, including the number of fires and causes; number of injuries and deaths related to fires; and the value of property damage caused by fires
  • Descriptions of each on-campus student housing facility’s fire safety systems
  • The number of mandatory, supervised fire drills
  • Policies or rules on portable electronic appliances; smoking and open flames; evacuation procedures; fire safety education and training programs provided to students, faculty and staff
  • Plans for future fire safety ¬improvements, if needed
  • An annual report to the campus ¬community

What’s more, the law calls for the creation of a safety and security grant program for higher education campuses — up to 50 percent of the cost — to fund improved emergency communication systems, notification procedures, crisis response services and overall safety.

For many campuses, the new law means new internal procedures. As of press time, however, specific reporting procedures, processes and reporting dates are in the research and discussion phase. The DOE is gathering input from stakeholders, including potential regulated parties. Campuses will be informed of the new regulations once the policy is defined.

Still, while the specifics are being finalized, campus officials can be proactive and revisit their fire challenges, emergency plans and equipment, to safeguard property — and more ¬importantly, lives.

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