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In case of emergency: Mills’ plan

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina questions are suddenly arising: What do students do in the event of an emergency? Who do we contact? What is Mills' emergency plan?

Mills is currently updating its emergency plan for the new school year. The plan consists of emergency procedures for every building on campus. Each building has a designated safety officer and a list of evacuation plans. Inside the dorms, there is a red piece of paper detailing evacuation plans and emergency numbers next to every student's door, but there hasn't been much communication beyond that to students.

"They just said if there's an emergency call Public Safety or the RA on duty and if you have to evacuate use the fire plan on the wall," said Freshwoman Jen Johnson.

The emergency plan also extends to the Mills Web site. Online, students can find safety procedures and some evacuation procedures. While that information is useful for individuals, it does not explain how the administration would deal with the campus as a whole. In addition to the emergency plan, the health and counseling departments have begun working with the athletics department to create a psychological help team that would assist students in the aftermath of a disaster.

If an earthquake were to hit the Bay Area, geologists say it would most likely occur along either the San Andreas or Hayward fault, the latter of which runs right through Mills' campus, making it even more important that Mills have a definite emergency plan. Unlike hurricanes, earthquakes are nearly impossible to predict. It is not until the aftermath that people even know what hit them.

For years now, geologists have been saying the "Big One" is about to hit, but what will happen when it does? The amount of damage depends on where the earthquake hits. The 1989 earthquake centered about 10 miles away from Santa Cruz, 56 miles away from San Francisco, where the damage was greatest. The Hayward fault runs along the Highway 580 side of campus, behind the Art Museum and Reinhardt Alumnae House; Mills would feel a quake in a big way.

The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake caused major damage to Mills Hall. Chemistry professor John Brabson was in Mills Hall at the time of the quake and recollects it vividly. "The building was moving horizontally in such large waves it seemed to me it might collapse any moment," said Brabson.

Mills Hall was evacuated in 1989 and renovated in 1994.

Mills' proximity to a fault line makes it even more important that students know what to do in an emergency. "A lot of people are really mad that there's no plan. The RAs didn't tell us anything about procedure," said freshwoman Lindsay Marcus. While there are evacuation sites in place, Mills has yet to release a campus-wide emergency plan.

Two years ago, almost to the day that Katrina hit, a small earthquake shook Mills campus, prompting Public Safety to send out a school-wide email. The e-mail assured students that Mills has a plan including an Emergency Management Team and emergency supplies. It also included some basic earthquake preparedness and safety procedures similar to those currently listed on the Web site.

The need to get students involved in the emergency plan is strong; beyond professors and trained staff, the student-lifeguards are the best-trained people on campus. Having many students involved could help the administration deal with a disaster, and the student body, in a more orderly fashion. Cal and Stanford both have Red Cross campus clubs that are trained to help in the event of a disaster and get credit for doing so, students interested in creating a Mills version should contact Bridget Mansell or Student Activities in DSL.

Emergency preparedness on the Mills campus will be discussed in a campus-wide meeting on Sept. 19.