Lab farm safe rooms protect human livesUW-River Falls recently finished building at each of its campus lab farms, a safe room that would protect university students, faculty, staff and visitors to the farm who need to take shelter in nasty weather.
By: Debbie Griffin, River Falls Journal
UW-River Falls recently finished building at each of its campus lab farms, a safe room that would protect university students, faculty, staff and visitors to the farm who need to take shelter in nasty weather.
Special Assistant to the Chancellor Blake Fry said construction of the two little buildings results from need and come as part of the UW-RF’s disaster-mitigation plan.
He said the point of having such a plan is to determine what the school can do to reduce the loss of life from natural disasters.
The lab farms, he said, are of special concern, “If a tornado comes through, where is everybody going to go?” he asked.
Fry, who is responsible for the university’s overall plan, said funding for the shelters comes from a FEMA grant available through its pre-disaster-mitigation program.
Money is available to public entities that have established a disaster-mitigation plan and identified needed projects as part of the plan.
He said projects that have more benefit than cost are eligible for the grant funding.
Interestingly, the formula for calculating disaster costs does assign a dollar value to each human life: Two million dollars
Fry said, “We were actually the first university in the state to have a disaster-management plan done.”
To his knowledge, UW-RF was also the only entity in Wisconsin to have FEMA approve project funding in 2010. The collective cost of both shelters is about $100,000. FEMA funding covered 75% of that cost, and the state covered the rest.
Each “safe room” has 236 square feet, enough room for 47 people to get inside -- the maximum number of people working or visiting either farm at one time.
Construction on them began this summer and finished this month.
They are each on a concrete foundation and have 8-inch-thick concrete masonry walls and precast concrete roof panels -- all built to withstand high winds and flying objects. Fry said he’s already fielded questions about the shelters from other entities in town and around the region.
UW-RF Director of Risk Management Connie Smith said about the lab farms: “Everything is above ground and made as a pole-shed variety of building,” she said, pointing out that those structures aren’t safe in severe weather.
Smith said not having a severe-weather shelter at either lab farm had been considered “high risk.”
She and Fry confirm that the university’s emergency-management plan is an ongoing, all-encompassing project that includes planning for any and all emergency scenarios from severe weather to shooters on campus and other threats.
Smith said the university is currently finalizing the operations and maintenance plan for the safe rooms.
The plan advises getting into the rooms whenever weather sirens are sounding, but she says people will be encouraged to go to the room the minute they feel unsafe.
The buildings meet FEMA specifications and include, for example, a chemical toilet and battery backup lighting. Also included in the small building must be a first-aid kit, potable water, sanitation kits, communication equipment, flashlights and batteries and an air horn.
Smith said about the safe room project, “It’s all part of the campus plan to be as prepared as we can.”