Roanoke College reacts to Va. Tech carbon monoxide accident

SALEM, Va. - Roanoke College's heart goes out to Virginia Tech as its students try to deal with a frightening carbon monoxide accident just as their new academic year begins.

Unfortunately, that kind of tragic event is familiar to Roanoke College. It had two experiences last year with carbon monoxide accidents and, as a result, has undertaken a major campus safety program to protect the campus community.

"Protecting the safety of your students is, of course, the highest priority at all colleges and universities," says Teresa Gereaux, director of public relations at Roanoke College. "That was a painful time for our community, and we share in the shock and pain felt at Virginia Tech today. We must all use events such as this as a reminder of the dangers of carbon monoxide. Detectors have worked for Roanoke College and should be considered for college students who live in rental properties off-campus."

Unlike the event at Tech, both of the CO accidents that happened at Roanoke actually occurred on campus. The first, which was on July 14, 2006, sent 114 people to the hospital for treatment and claimed the life of a respected 91-year-old minister, who was staying on campus for a conference of the Virginia Lutheran Synod.

The College immediately installed battery-operated carbon monoxide monitors in all buildings on campus and began working on a major safety plan. On Sept. 16, a monitor at the Sigma Chi fraternity house alerted students about a CO leak. The house was evacuated, and no one was injured.

Overall, the College has spent more than $50,000 buying and installing new CO monitors in every building on campus. The battery-operated ones were installed after the first accident, and Roanoke has since extended protection by "hard-wiring" CO alarms to all of its fire alarm systems. That includes all residence halls and most academic buildings.

Carbon monoxide monitors are not required by law, but the College installed them because ensuring the safety of the entire campus community is the top priority. Earlier this year, the Virginia legislature even considered making them mandatory, but the bill ultimately didn't pass into law.

The College also began contracting with an outside company to conduct yearly inspections of all flues, boilers and gas-fired appliances on campus.

To protect students living off campus, the College has included information about the importance of smoke alarms and CO monitors in its "Off-Campus Housing Guide." Earlier this summer, Roanoke also sent e-mails about those safety issues to all off-campus students and a similar letter through the mail to their parents.

Roanoke College also started this month a new emergency notification service, called "Maroon Alerts." It is a mass text messaging system that gives the College the ability to contact students quickly via text messages on cell phones and by e-mail. That gives the staff an additional method of contacting the campus community in the event of an emergency or a bad weather. In addition, it uses a system outside the College computer network to ensure consistent communications, especially in events affecting electricity or computing capability.