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Posted on Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

U-M doesn't follow letter of the law on drills, says other safety measures are more effective

By Kyle Feldscher


Students walk to and from the South Quadrangle dormitory on the University of Michigan campus in this file photo. The university says other measures can be more effective than drills in ensuring students know what to do in an emergency.

Courtney Sacco I

The University of Michigan did two fire drills per year in its dormitories during 2011, short of the state requirement of eight in each building.

University officials say that’s not a problem.

“The University of Michigan is not at all like a typical K-12 school district,” said Rick Fitzgerald, university spokesman.

“Our population, they don’t stay in one building all day having a drill that’s specific to a building, and having that drill over and over creates some muscle memory, if your will, in a K-12 district. Our students are all over the place and it’s different from day to day.”

State law requires universities and colleges to abide by the same law as K-12 school districts. According to law, eight fire drills are required every school year, along with two tornado drills

An MLive Media Group analysis of the number of fire drills and the procedures for following safety drills at Michigan’s colleges and universities found many university officials are confused about the number of drills they should do and how they should do them. Compliance with the law varies widely by university.

According to statistics provided by Fitzgerald, in 2010, Michigan students participated in 31 fire drills in residential facilities, 213 fire drills in non-residential facilities and 34 severe weather drills in non-residential facilities. The next year, there were 36 fire drills done in residential facilities, 231 fire drills in non-residential facilities and 37 severe weather drills in non-residential facilities. U-M only did four tornado drills in residential facilities each of those years.

However, Fitzgerald said drills are not necessarily the best way for college-aged students to prepare for emergencies.

Housing security officers assigned to each residence hall are trained in emergency response situations and recently renovated residence halls have fire suppression systems that surpass code requirements, Fitzgerald said.

School safety series

Stories from MLive Media Group’s investigation into school safety drills:

“Those are the kinds of things in residence halls that, for our population, make a lot of sense. Those are the kinds of things we need to do,” Fitzgerald said.

In addition, the university has encouraged students, living both on and off campus, to sign up for the school’s emergency text message alert system. That system allows students to be aware of emergency situations on campus and receive instructions on what to do almost immediately, Fitzgerald said.

The university also commissioned Filmic Productions, a student-run film production company, to produce a video teaching students what to do in a severe weather situation.

“People learn in different ways,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve learned video is a good medium.”

The video is expected in the springtime, Fitzgerald said.

While the university is using various ways outside of drills to prepare its students for emergency situations, Fitzgerald did not shy away from the fact that the university is not in complete compliance with state legislation.

He pointed to the large age range of the people affected by the law — from kindergartners all the way to doctoral students — as a reason why the university feels comfortable with its stance.

“Those same methods may not be the most effective from pre-kindergarten to graduate school,” he said. “There are things at the higher education level that are different approaches but accomplish the same goals, and that’s kind of where we are on this.”

He added, “I understand there are real specifics, but on the other hand, what you’d find us doing is going way beyond fire drills, because the fire drills themselves only capture where (students) are perhaps the least amount of time.”

Kyle Feldscher covers cops and courts for He can be reached at or you can follow him on Twitter.



Wed, Mar 13, 2013 : 3:56 a.m.

The University employs its own fire marshall, which means it is up to an employee to complain about that his/her employer is out of compliance. Not the best system. Drills should be monitored by an external non-conflicted fire marshall from the city fire department. It is not just about having x number of drills, it is the complete package of monitoring drills and inspecting halls for fire safety by an objective third party....not the current situation.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 6:17 p.m.

Some State Law telling the Great and Mighty U of M how to operate!?! That's like the city telling them they cannot have video type signs since they are illegal. Just let any business in the city limits just try that! Hopefully their superior methods never get put to the test.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 5:19 p.m.

This is a "law" if you do not like the state law work to get it changed don't just break it, valid points or not!


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 4:57 p.m.

Bah, laws are only for the little people, dahling..


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 4:31 p.m.

I agree 8 drills a year seems excessive, but can you imagine all of the lawsuits when someone is injured in an actual fire? The U would get what they deserve. Follow the law or change the law.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 3:43 p.m.

I get the value of doing fire drills for elementary school kids, but seriously: U-M students are legally adults, and spend a lot of time in many different buildings each day. (And before someone replies that 18 year-olds are still kids, consider: are they ever going to grow up if we continue to infantilize them?) Do you do 8 fire drills a year at your home? At your office? Doing 8 drills a year in the dorms would be hugely disruptive. When you consider the dorms are only occupied about half the year anyway (accounting for spring/summer and breaks) and add the number of false alarms, you'd be doing an evacuation almost every week! Now you're talking long-term interference with work and sleep schedules. Not worth it.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 5:26 p.m.

I agree with DBH 100% This is a "law" if you do not like the state law work to get it changed don't just break it, valid points or not!


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 3:18 p.m.

UM is breaking the law, plain and simple. If they feel the law is inappropriate for their situation (and I would agree), then they should endeavor to work with the state legislature to change the law. Unless and until the law is changed, though, it should be obeyed by UM and everyone else.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 5:25 p.m.

I agree with you DBH 100% This is a "law" if you do not like the state law work to get it changed don't just break it, valid points or not!


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 3:04 p.m.

"...says other safety measures are more effective" And how exactly do they demonstrate that, except theoretically? The facts are indisputable that there will always be those who are immune to the rules and commonsense regarding safety, most of the time they're lucky. But quite often they're not.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 1:58 p.m.

"badges? we don't need no stinkin' badges!" come to mind.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:31 p.m.

Maybe they can self-impose sanctions again... The arrogance of their administration is bewildering!


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:16 p.m.

Eight fire drills a year in dorms? People will just stop responding when they hear the bell. That's nuts. Makes sense in a school building during the day, with teachers directing the evacuation, but in a dorm at night? Crazy.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 5:22 p.m.

Not so crazy if there is a fire!


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:59 p.m.

Those probably weren't all drills, some of them were drunk students pulling the alarm.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.

I lived in East Quad from 2005-2007, and in 2006-2007 we definitely had 8+ drills ... it was insane. One night during the winter, we trudged outside, then came back in, and then the alarm went off AGAIN. Our t-shirts said "East Quad on Fire" that year ... lol.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:24 p.m.

Can they just start counting all the pranks in the dorms fire drills? Those alarms easily go off more than eight times per year.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:15 p.m.

Drill frequency aside, it would be helpful if those who control the University mandate that all people leave the buildings when an alarm sounds. There are numerous faculty who just shut their office doors or will not dismiss their classes because of the importance of what they're doing.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 11:27 a.m.

If kids get disrupted 8 times a year for a drill, people stop taking them seriously and assume every alarm is a drill.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 11:04 a.m.

The U of M does what they want. The Joint Commission should take note.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:15 p.m.

Yeah. I love it when people learn a phrase, but not what it means.


Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 12:04 p.m.

That's all they COULD do, since they only have authority over hospitals.

PC Stone

Tue, Mar 12, 2013 : 10:21 a.m.

Although the officials make valid points, they are not above the law.