Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Train Wrecks Always Happen at An Intersection

Collisions. The intersection of two different things is rife with possibilities that something is going to go wrong. Having sloshed through regulations for more than 20 years now, I can say that digging through them is often frustrating and can push one to the point of driving straight to Sacramento with a nerf bat (really, I am not that violent) to konk some legislator on the head. What WERE you thinking?

Being away from the highly regulated world of radioactivity, I don’t need to slog through regulations nearly as much...until recently. I take great pains to become physically involved with my job and (along with my long-sung mantra, “Get Up, Get Out, Get Going”) I walked through our new housing complex. Honestly, it is beautiful. No wonder the waiting list to get in to the student residential housing (dorms) is so long. In my tour, I focused on emergency aspects, such as emergency exits, evacuation routes and signs. To my surprise, I found something I had not seen before – An Area of Refuge.

Well, that’s not quite true. The first area of refuge I encountered was a couple years ago on the Big Island of Hawaii. Pu’uhonua O H┼Źnaunau National Historical Park holds the island’s City of Refuge, an ancient place where defeated warriors and wrong-doers came to seek refuge and not be killed. A place with stunning beauty, peace and calm.

Perhaps this was the idea behind the current Areas of Refuge that are located in the stairwells of new structures, like our new student housing. The concept is quite simple. It is an area adequate to hold a wheel chair or other mobile device so that during an emergency evacuation, a person in that chair could remain safely away from the building’s smoke and fire until help came to assist them. All seemed good until I looked up. There, just above where the wheelchair would reside is the fire alarm and alarm strobe. For those of you who have not experienced the new alarms and lights, it is something that you would want to move away from as quickly as possible. Imagine living in the center of a fire station that also happens to double as a disco. That’s what it is like. So, you can imagine my thoughts (think nerf bat) when I envisioned someone who was not only unable to travel down the stairs, but also stuck with an ear-splitting siren and visually assaulting blinking lights. This just cannot be!

You’d think that NFPA (National Fire Protection folks) and ADA (Americans with Disabilities folks) would have thought about their intersection before the train crashed. But apparently not. I’m still on the hunt for someone to give me answers on how to correct this situation. I tried to look at the regulations myself, but fire codes, building codes, and compliance codes are deep and filled with language I simply cannot comprehend.

I guess my bottom line is how to avoid such train wrecks for yourself. Set up systems and things in your house that are a meet-and-greet rather than something resulting in mushroom clouds. Design, build, test. It is the best way to prepare for anything.

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