Gas leak empties Loyola 

Real-life tryout for large-scale notification system

By Shelagh Peden

About 500 people were evacuated from Loyola Campus last week. Magnifying glass

About 500 people were evacuated from Loyola Campus last week.

A natural gas leak led to the evacuation of the Loyola Campus on March 25 and prompted the first large-scale use of the Concordia emergency notification system in an urgent situation.

The leak was caused by a ruptured two-inch pipe at the construction site of the new Centre for Structural and Functional Genomics, at the corner of Sherbrooke and West Broadway. The leak prompted the activation of the emergency response team, coordinated by Senior Advisor on Emergency Management Darren Dumoulin.

While the emergency called for the coordinated efforts of approximately 50 firefighters, numerous police and our own emergency responders, no one was hurt and the campus was safely restored to full operation during the evening.

The firefighters were first to be notified of the leak and they quickly set up a perimeter around the affected area as well as a command post. They allowed a Concordia representative to join them, greatly facilitating the coordination of decision-making.

University officials were called into action by the ERMS, Concordia’s emergency notification system, at approximately 12:15 p.m., shortly after the firefighters were notified.

University Registrar Linda Healey coordinated the emails to over 2 500 students who were registered for classes at Loyola that afternoon and evening. Those with classes after 5:30 p.m. were told to stay tuned and to check the university’s website for updates. They were emailed again at approximately 4:50 p.m. with a message saying evening classes would be held as usual.

The hotline (514-848-8800), used only for significant emergencies, was updated whenever new information came to the emergency operations centre. The same messages were issued regularly to staff and faculty by email and on the university website.

“People have to understand it takes a few minutes to determine the facts before any message goes out,” said Dumoulin. In situations such as these, local media can pick upon the story quite quickly, and in doing so, can often fan the flames of rumours.

The same notification system used to call responders into action was used to evacuate buildings without public address systems. The system calls the VOIP phones and plays a message when answered. Though the message didn’t get out as quickly as was hoped, the issues have already been identified and resolved.

The messaging system, used to transmit text messages and emails to long lists of subscribers, was also used, advising all subscribed Concordians to avoid the area and to check the emergency hotline for updates. All faculty, staff and students are encouraged to subscribe to the service through the MyConcordia Portal under ‘messaging’.

Despite challenges with communicating up-to-the-minute information, responders felt the operation went quite well. The fire chief was particularly pleased with Concordia’s efforts, as many buildings were evacuated in good time.

Coincidentally, when the gas leak occurred, Dumoulin was in the midst of planning a trial run for the emergency notification system during the annual emergency exercise, where employees and senior administrators run through trial emergencies to hone skills and reduce response times.

For more on emergency response procedures, please watch the video.


Concordia University