Chlorine gas not a concern for students

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A photo of one of the Alertus wall beacons in the hallway that connects the Paskwāw and Wakpá towers, the Administration and Humanities building, and the CKHS. To the left of the beacon, there is an open door with a printed sign in the window between the door and the beacon. The sign reads “The LINC Office is in WA 114 (ESL Office) next door,” and has an arrow pointing to the right of the photo.
The alarms look like strange intercoms. I wonder how those would do as an alarm system... lee lim

More on the chlorine gas leak at the University of Regina

Last issue, I wrote about the chlorine gas leak in the Aquatics Centre on the main floor of the Centre for Kinesiology, Health, and Safety (CKHS) building. Last Wednesday, I followed up with Dr. Harold Riemer on the issue, and then with Douglas Schmidt the next day.  

During the interview with Dr. Riemer, Dean of Kinesiology, Health, and Safety (KHS) at the University of Regina (U of R), the gas leak speculated about in Issue 17 was revealed to be a leak resulting from regular pool maintenance.  

“There wasn’t a leak in the pool per se,” he said. The evacuation of the CKHS and Education building occurred when chlorine gas leaked from the chlorine gas tanks when empty tanks were being switched out. 

The U of R’s Aquatics Centre is chlorinated with gas, which used to be common for swimming pools but is now more commonly used by large municipalities to chlorinate their water supplies. Younger swimming pools tend to use chlorinating liquid or powder that is mixed into the water. 

The chlorine gas that supplies the pool is stored in two large tanks in an attached, but disconnected building. “It’s designed to be a separate facility, isolated from the rest of the building. That’s where the tanks are housed, and that’s where [the tanks] would be changed,” said Dr. Riemer.  

“The room is actually designed to ventilate that chlorine gas, should there be any, immediately to the outside air. Chlorine gas is heavy, so it lays near the ground, and that facility is designed… to move that air out of there quickly and effectively,” he continued.  

Douglas Schmidt, the U of R’s Health, Safety & Emergency Management Advisor, spoke more about the recognition of a leak and the protocols involved in managing one. He said, “There are chlorine procedures in place that the KHS does have, and it’s fantastic… [during maintenance] they’ve got it set up where they’ll call Campus Security [to] just have a safety watch.”  

Changing the chlorine gas tanks is a high-risk procedure, but the protocols and procedures in place are intended to minimize that risk. The maintenance staff that is trained to change the tanks is required to call Campus Security as a safety precaution, as well as wear protective equipment during maintenance. 

“Campus Security was available to come and just kind of watch over and take a look at anything, if anything did occur,” Schmidt continued, “The safety plans and processes that those two teams have together worked out fantastic.” 

So, when the emergency evacuation order was sent out, it was part of a protocol the CKHS follows to effectively manage a chlorine gas leak. Schmidt said, “We have two sensors in that specific room where the chlorine leak was detected. The sensors did work well… the way it should have and security did a fantastic job in assuming incident command.” 

Campus Security is responsible for ensuring everyone’s safety, and triggering the next steps in the emergency protocol: communication. Schmidt said, “So in terms of that, evacuating the buildings, notifying the fire department, contacting myself and setting up a plan, essentially, on how we’re going to control this.”  

The U of R’s Emergency Notification System (ENS) primarily includes the Alertus Recipient App and the Alertus wall beacons found around campus but also includes high-powered speakers outside in the academic green.  

Students may have seen posters around campus encouraging them to download the Alertus app, as this is the mass notification system for university-related emergencies.  

Schmidt noted that on-campus computers logged into student credentials are also linked to this system, saying, “If you are working on campus or studying on campus, your screen will have an override and broadcast the emergency message, the same message you get on your cell phone.” 

Over the past year, Schmidt has been working on increasing student awareness and working with the university’s Advancement Communications to ensure students know how to get emergency information on their mobile devices.  

Besides the app, the Alertus wall beacons will flash and make a tone when broadcasting an emergency. They are yellow and black with a small screen in their centre and can be found in every university building.  

In Issue 17’s article, I noted that the Alertus app did not convey much, or any, information to the students about the nature of the evacuation. Schmidt explained that the alert messages are limited to 450 characters, and the information included in them is limited to priority information. “It’s important that we escalate the emergency to ensure that everybody knows,” Schmidt said. 

He continued, saying, “The message was sent out in three and a half seconds, so it’s nice to know that the message gets out quickly and effectively. [The message] indicated that an evacuation order has been issued for the Kinesiology and Education buildings, and that was based under the direction of the Regina Fire Department… So that was the first message.” 

Later in the day, at 6:59 p.m., U of R Student Affairs sent out a brief second email to inform the students of the nature of the emergency. This email explained that the emergency was due to a gas leak, there were no reported injuries, and that the buildings had been tested and cleared by the Regina Fire & Protective Services.  

Also in this email was a note that the University pool would be closed for repairs. The pool reopened on Feb 5.  

Dr. Riemer explained that these repairs were “parts in the system that needed to be replaced. So, when the gas leak happened, and that was resolved… We wanted to make sure that the system was functioning properly so that chlorine was getting to the pool and mixing with the water. There were a couple parts that needed to be replaced in the pool system to do that, and so while those repairs were taking place, we thought it best to close the pool.” 

Dr. Riemer noted that the pool is currently running as usual, but the pool is waiting for some other parts to arrive so they can be replaced in the system.  

He said, “In the meantime, we monitored the chlorine levels to make sure the system was working the way it’s intended to work for about three days. We did that over the weekend, and that’s one of the reasons we didn’t open until Monday morning. We decided just to hold off just to make sure that the chlorine levels were where they needed to be based on the provincial regulations and that the system was working properly over a period of time.” 

So, the university’s chlorine leak was the result of regular maintenance and the resulting emergency evacuation was the result of following proper gas leak protocol. 

Editor’s note: While editing this article, Dr. Reimer sent out an email informing students the pool is closed until further notice due to challenges regulating water quality. 

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