MARCI: In our church service, I know we’re helping save spiritual lives. This time we might be helping save a physical life. I’ve never heard any discussions about building safety in meetinghouses. A recent alarm (false alarm, thankfully) left teachers and parents baffled — do they stay with the children in their classes? go find their own children? Michelle and Tina were also in similar false alarm situations and we decided to tackle it together.
MICHELLE: I was sitting in Relief Society one Sunday when I experienced my first fire alarm in the church. The lesson had just begun, I was juggling my twin babies and trying to pay attention when suddenly a loud repetitive noise began. It was so unexpected and foreign it took me a minute to register that it was a fire alarm!
No one took it seriously. In fact, a discussion amongst the sisters ensued about whether or not we should bother evacuating or just continue with the lesson. Finally, one sister holding a young baby said, “I’m evacuating.” I looked into the hall and noticed a rush of people. I decided to evacuate as well. For the first time, the thought crossed my mind that this might be a real fire alarm and I realized I had no idea what that meant for my children in Primary!
We all filed out into the congested hall. The crowd moved at a snail’s pace toward the front main entrance. On the way I picked up my two Primary-aged kids who were standing near their classrooms with teachers who looked as perplexed as I felt. I slowly attempted to navigate the crowds with my double stroller, twin babies, and two bigger kiddos while everyone stood around looking confused. It wasn’t until later that I realized how ridiculous I had been. In fact, I think I passed at least 4 exits while I was slowly plugging along toward the front door of the church building — the exit we usually use.
Not long ago one of the stake centers in the neighboring town actually burned down on a Sunday during Stake Conference! I’m guessing that when those fire alarms first sounded, that congregation also wondered if they should bother evacuating. I thought: Does my ward Primary have a safety plan? Do the teachers know the nearest exit to their classroom and where to gather outside the building? As a Primary parent I certainly didn’t know what the plan was (if there was one) so “notifying parents” definitely needed to be on that safety plan so that I didn’t panic and go rushing around trying to collect my children from various classrooms instead of just meeting them outside safely.
TINA: Though we’re still working out the details, here is the tentative safety plan in our ward.
- In the case of a suspected emergency, someone–anyone–needs to pull the fire alarm so everyone knows to get out! Don’t wait to investigate the cause.
- Stay calm, but take the fire alarm seriously. Even if you think it might be a false alarm, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY and evacuate the building.
- The evacuation plan should be posted in EVERY classroom and it needs to be part of the training of each new teacher.
- The evacuation plan should be reviewed at least once a year in ward council, with instructions that each auxiliary or quorum should review with their leaders and teachers. The evacuation plan should include identifying several individuals to be trained in how to silence (NOT reset) the fire alarm, and designated individuals to sweep the building (if safe to do so) to ensure it is empty.
LEAVING THE BUILDING
- Adults and youth: Get out of the building using the nearest exit (signs should be posted in each room so people know where the nearest exit is).
- Children: Stay with your teacher and get out of the building. Teachers are responsible for each child in their class until they personally hand the child off to a parent.
- EVERYONE walks quickly to the gathering place.
- Parents will gather their children one by one at the outside gathering place. Then the head count will be taken by family, not by class.
- Head counts will be done by Priesthood quorum. Families with no priesthood holder will still be accounted for based on which quorum home teaches them.
- Once a family has been accounted for, they should leave the parking lot (drive or walk away). With fewer people standing around, it’s easier to see what still needs to be done and which kids still need to find parents.