Wildfire smoke over San Francisco State
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4 Ways the CSU Promotes Fire Safety

Alex Beall

This Fire Prevention Week, see how the CSU keeps its campus communities safe and informed.

Wildfire smoke over San Francisco State

​Wild​fire smoke over San Francisco State; Photo courtesy Russell McArthur/SFSU ​Dept. of Earth and Climate Sciences


October 9th kicked off the National Fire Protection Association's 100th annual Fire Prevention Week. This year's campaign, “Fire won't wait. Plan your escape," aims to raise awareness around how individuals can keep themselves safe in the event of a fire. In time for this long-running observance, we looked at ways the CSU is working to protect its students, faculty, staff and community in the midst of fires.

1. Systemwide Resources

The CSU's Emergency Management team supports campuses through the creation of a broad range of systemwide resources, including guidance documents, webinar presentations and regular group brainstorming sessions that keep all campuses engaged and connected to one another. This network helps campuses access the information they need to make informed decisions around safety. The purview of the team, however, goes beyond fires to include other crises like earthquakes and the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The CSU has unique campuses, unique geographies, unique cultures, and so it's not a one-size-fits-all solution for our campuses," says Jenny Novak, director of Systemwide Emergency Management and Continuity. “Our goal is to bring people together as much as we can to get people sharing good practices that they're implementing on their campuses and lessons learned from incidents."

Recently, the team gathered an interdepartmental Wildfire Smoke Work Group to develop the Systemwide Wildfire Smoke Guide, which provides guidance for preparing for, responding to and recovering from a wildfire smoke event that impacts campus air quality. It includes references like websites that track air quality, good practices like which local partners to work with and regulatory information like requirements around personal protective equipment for campuses to consider when making decisions around operations and response.

“The big issue historically has been smoke more than fire itself because the smoke has such a broad, regional impact compared to the fires," Novak says. “When we put together a guide like this, we want to alleviate some of the campus burden by conducting the research and compiling it to give people a single place to look for information."

The team plans to create similar resources for wildfire recovery that will cover working with insurance providers, bringing in temporary facilities and technology and providing mental health care.

2. Systemwide Emergency Support Team

In the event of a regional emergency affecting multiple campuses, the Chancellor's Office can activate its Systemwide Emergency Support Team to provide extra help.

“It makes sense for us, especially, in a wildfire-type situation where there's a lot of smoke over a very large area and we're all seeing those impacts at the same time, because we want to have an idea of the number of campuses that are impacted," Novak says. For example, the team activated for the first time during the 2020 wildfires, which impacted seven campuses, to coordinate response efforts.

When activated, the Systemwide Emergency Support Team can use information gathered by the campuses to produce daily reports on their status, including academic operations, current fire threat and air quality. It will also schedule calls with campus partners to support decision-making and communications. But the team also helps campuses prepare for future emergencies through group exercises and training sessions.

3. Office of Fire Safety

Through the creation of the Office of Fire Safety five years ago, the CSU is gradually taking over the responsibility from the State Fire Marshal of ensuring campus facilities meet fire safety regulations and campus administrators are prepared for a fire emergency.

“It was a conscious effort when this program at the CSU got started to make it centralized under the Chancellor's Office to have a consistent approach systemwide from Humboldt to San Diego," says Vincent Anderson, CSU deputy director of Fire Safety. “We're going to have the same trainings and service delivery regardless of what zip code you're in or which mascot is greeting you at the front gate. It is a humbling opportunity to be part of such a collaborative family between the Office of Fire Safety and the ​Capital Planning, Design and Construction Department (CPDC).​"

By taking on this role, the Office of Fire Safety can customize the processes for inspecting, constructing and maintaining facilities to the university environment and academic schedule as well as make sure these processes are done in a timely manner. The office also works with campus partners to keep their protocols and practices up to date.

“The main benefit to the campuses of our office is consistent, systemwide, time-effective fire safety programs tailored to the unique needs and uses of the CSU system," Anderson says.

The office will also conduct outreach to empower campus community members, including students and faculty, to ensure their own fire safety—an especially important task as campuses welcome a new cohort of students each year.

“It's building that safety ecosystem and that culture of safety through the public education piece—and again, tailoring it to the academic university," Anderson says.

4. Campus Emergency Management Programs

Lastly, all 23 CSU universities have their own emergency management programs and emergency operations centers that respond to active emergencies and have notification systems to quickly communicate important information to the campus community. They also work with local partners, such as fire departments, to establish proper procedures and campus access for emergency personnel as well as perform outreach to develop a resilient campus culture.

Check the Systemwide Campus Safety & Security page or the Systemwide Risk Management page for more information.