Event Planning: All About Contracts – Ruth and Allison are back to discuss the ins and outs about insurance contracts: what are contracts, why are they important, what to look for when dealing with contracts, and why all of this matters to our clients.

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Property Basics – In this episode, Allison and Sara discuss the basics of the property coverage. Even if your chapter doesn’t have chapter house, there is still plenty of useful information for all chapter members in this episode.

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When we think of making campus facilities more secure, we often chink of high-tech or expensive solutions such as using the latest in communication systems or installing an extensive network of surveillance cameras. Although these efforts do deter crime and arc worth the expense, says Denise Swen, dean of Middlefield Campus at Foothill College in California, many of the efforts to make campus facilities more secure are relatively low cost and low tech.

During her recent online seminar “Including Safety and Security in Campus Facilities Planning,” Swett outlined how to make new and existing facilities more resistant to crime, including the following low-tech options:

Faculty and student training

Students have long been experts at circumventing the safety and security hardware that campuses install in residence halls, Swett noted. They prop doors open, ignore alarms, and lend one another their IDs and/or security swipe cards. As a result, training is key in making the most of equipment.

On Swen’s campus, trainers conduct five-minute meetings in classrooms. The training focuses on the positives of staying safe, rather than on scaring students with potential dangers. (Swen said she is happy to share the script her campus uses in these five-minute classroom appearances. Please email her at swettdenise@jhda.edu to request a copy.)


Something as seemingly simple as landscaping can impact facilities security, Swett noted. A bougainvillea border underneath a bank of windows, for example, serves a security function. The flowering shrub’s tangle of thorns deters potential criminals from accessing the building through the windows. Low-to-the-ground hedges and trees with their lower branches pruned away also enhance security: they keep windows from being obscured and don’t afford potential criminals places to hide.

Landscaping that offers full outdoor view~ also deters potential criminals. On Swett ‘s campus, for example, a grouping of tables in an outdoor spot affords a view in all directions, making it harder for a potential criminal to surprise anyone sitting there or commit a crime without being observed by someone else in the area. In contrast, another campus has a path winding through a garden of tall bamboo plants: although the garden is lovely, people on the path cannot see other people there until they’re in very close range.


Well-maintained campuses send the message “We don’t want you here” to potential criminals, Swett said. In contrast, poor maintenance sends the message, accurately or not, that the campus is “unsecured, ignored, and overlooked”- in other words, a good place to get away with crime.


Clear, well-designed signage can also deter crime. Signs should be easy to read at night and should not use confusing jargon or acronyms. Campus maps that are current and note the locations of emergency call boxes are helpful to both potential crime victims and first responders.

Addressing windows and doors

Among the top safety modifications included in the report released after the Virginia Tech shootings in 2006 were recommendations to install the following:

• solid doors

• window coverings

• doors without handle~ or bars that can be chained together

Swett noted that among the students locked into classrooms for safety reasons during the Virginia Tech shooting, all survived. Having a solid door, or at least a door with windows that can be covered by curtains or a shade, increases the safety of being locked into a room because an assailant can’t see if anyone’s inside.

Many double door sets can be chained together by an attacker because each door has a handle. If such doors can’t be replaced, at least one of the handles can be removed as an alternate solution, Swett said.

Which approaches should your campus take?

To determine the deterrents that will work for your campus, Swett recommended the following steps:

  1. Assemble a work team.
  2. Conduct an audit of your facilities for
    its security weak spots.
  3. Determine priorities for safety
  4. Find resources and enhancements.
  5. Install equipment and implement
  6. Develop training materials.
  7. Conduct ongoing training and drills.
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Special Episode: Housing Forum 2020 Recap – In this episode we recap this year’s MJ Housing Forum, the premier gathering for sorority housing professionals and volunteers.

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We’re Back! – Our first episode back after a long COVID-19 hiatus. We share what we’ve been up to, a few lessons from COVID-19, and what we’re planning for future episodes.

Chapter Events in Light of COVID-19 – In this episode, we asked Will Frankenberger, Chief Safety Officer at Delta Zeta Sorority, to join us to discuss events in the time of COVID-19.

Chapter Housing Lessons from COVID-19 – In this episode we discuss what lessons the MJ Sorority team learned from COVID-19 as it relates to sorority chapter housing.

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According to the USDA Forest Service, historic fire data show that wildfires are not only getting larger; they also are becoming more intense. As populations increasingly move from metropolitan areas into the outlying fringes bordered by woodlands, grass and brush, this has significant property and life safety implications for households, farms, ranches and businesses. This decentralization into natural settings has created a landscape known as the wildland/urban interface (WUI). The WUI is defined as “the area where structures and other human development meet with undeveloped wildland.”

For those who live or work in the WUI, advance planning and taking safety precautions are critical in helping to reduce wildland fire property loss and injury. To reduce the risk, considerations should be given to the fire resistance of building structures, the topography of property and the nature of and proximity to nearby brush, trees and vegetation. Safety considerations include, but are not limited to:

Protection and Preparation

Create Safety Zones Around Structures
  • Maintain a clear space free of brush, trees, grasses of at least 100 feet, preferably 200 feet, between the structures and natural growth.
  • If you live on a hill, extend the zone on the downhill side. Fire spreads rapidly uphill.
  • Properly maintain or avoid ornamental plants known or thought to be high hazard combustible plants.
  • Keep outside storage of flammable liquids, gases, and hazardous materials at least 100 feet from the buildings. Preferably, maintain them within a fire rated safety storage locker.
Maximize Fire Resistance Through Construction/Building Materials
(At time of new construction, remodeling, or through retrofitting)
  • Consider exterior mounted fire sprinklers to protect the roof, walls and windows of the buildings.
  • Install noncombustible roofing and siding materials.
  • Replace plain glazing with fire-rated glass, or provide fire shutters.
  • Cover house vents with wire mesh, to deter flaming debris from entering.
  • Install spark arrestors on chimneys.
Prepare for Water Storage
  • Develop an available water supply; and
  • Connect with campus fire officials about availability of water
Other Considerations
  • Make an inventory of property and furnishings. Here’s our version.
  • Keep important papers, data and an inventory of your property and furnishings in a safe location offsite or fire-resistant rated safe.
  • Have emergency/fire department telephone numbers readily available.
  • Maintain building accessibility for fire department equipment.
  • Have a continuity plan with alternative arrangements for continuing critical operations.


Always be ready for an emergency evacuation
  • Know where to go and what to bring with you.
  • Plan several escape routes, in the event roads are blocked.
  • Account for all members and employees of the chapter, during and after evacuation. Ensure a safe evacuation.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Practice evacuation plan.
Attend to last minute property mitigation measures
  • Remove combustible items (wood, lawn furniture) outside your property’s safety zone.
  • Close vents, windows, entry and garage doors.
  • Close shutters and blinds to reduce radiant heat.
  • Close all doors inside the house to prevent draft.
Attend to water preparation and other systems
  • Shut off all sources of natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies.
  • Get water and water pump ready. Connect garden hoses. Fill pools, tubs, garbage cans, or other large vessels/containers with water.
  • Put automatic garage doors on manual, in case of power outage.
Other considerations
  • Follow disaster plan/ emergency shut down practices. This includes equipment, machines, HVAC and other building systems.
  • Prepare hose lines and maintain a fire watch center. Activate any manually operated outside fire sprinklers, when appropriate.


Read OSHA’s Wildfire: Response/Recovery.

Other Considerations

Contact your campus fire department, forestry office, emergency management office and building department for information about local fire laws, building codes and prevention measures. Obtain local building codes and weed abatement ordinances for structures built near wooded areas.

Additional Resources

Source: Travelers.com

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The U.S. has learned from Japan that retrofitting buildings to withstand earthquakes can save lives and reduce losses. Click the link to watch a video from AM Best discussing retrofitting. “Earthquake Retrofitting Saves Lives, Reduces Losses” (April 2021)

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FAQs: Commercial Kitchens – In this episode we discuss all sorts of cooking and kitchen related questions that we hear most often.

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We recommend that you complete a House Inventory Checklist and review it once a year (note about this resource: we have made this resource available in Excel because it has built-in formulas for easy manipulation and calculation. Once you click on the link, you can click on the download link in the upper righthand corner to edit your own version). For more information about the property coverage, please click here.

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Use the Chapter House Self-Inspection checklist to review your property and life-safety risk management.

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According to a report completed by the Chapter Advisor, there were three chapter members conversing about the fire escape outside the window of the second floor.  One member, who admitted she had previously been out on the escape, showed the other two new members that it was possible to go out onto the fire escape from the window of the room.  The older member successfully got out on the escape.  One of the freshman women attempted to do the same and slipped and fell one story to the ground.  The women fractured her jaw in 8 places requiring surgery, lost 7-8 teeth and received various soft tissue injuries related to the fall from 15 feet.


Parents of member have retained an attorney and a reserve of $350,000 has been placed on the claim by the insurance company.

Liability Concerns

The fire escapes were used by the house residents as “balconies.”

  • Risk Management solution:  Written rules, by laws, contracts, handbooks or other correspondence methods should address inappropriate use of roofs, bodies of water, fire escapes, basements, attics, etc.

The prior House Director knew that the residents were using the fire escape as balconies.

  • Risk Management solution:  A specific person or persons should be responsible for making sure that rules are adhered to.  This person or persons must have authority and make sure all persons conform to these rules.  Persons living in the house must be held accountable to these rules.

The access ways to the fire escape had no signs posted.

  • Risk Management solution:  Signage is very important for instructions and awareness purposes.  Post signs in access ways that clearly indicate that the fire escape is to only be used for emergency purposes.

A light which was affixed to the wall just above the fire escape was not working.

  • Risk Management solution: The appropriate employee should be conducting comprehensive house inspections and giving the property manager written items that need correction.  This should also include a follow-up procedure to make sure that corrections are made in a timely fashion.

The witnesses all stated that they have never been advised of any prohibitions against using the fire escape.

  • Risk Management solution:  House Corporation should have a meeting with the Chapter members once every semester to educate the members on the House Rules and the minutes of the meeting should reflect said instructions.  Signs should be posted near the escapes that state “for emergency use only.”

A chair was present on the third-floor fire escape which had been present for three years according to one witness.

  • Risk Management solution:  An assumption could be made that the members were using the chair to sit in while using the fire escape in an improper manner.  Clearly communicate to employees the procedures for reporting to the House Corporation any House Rule violations.

One witness stated that the house members regularly used the fire escapes as balconies and were never told not to.

  • Risk Management solution:  House Corporation should have a meeting with the Chapter members once every semester to educate the members on the House Rules.

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A sprinkler head in a closet on the second floor went off resulting in water damage to the first and second floor, as well as the basement. The exact cause of the sprinkler head going off is not able to be determined. It is believed that the heat in the closet may have been a factor.  The expert hired to determine the cause noted that the sprinkler heads in the house were approximately 30 years-old and were either corroded or leaking.


The final cost of this claim was $498,444. There is no subrogation potential against the manufacturer of the sprinkler system or the company who installed it as the House Corporation did not maintain any records regarding when the system was installed or when it was inspected.

Issues to discuss

  1. Is your sprinkler system inspected on a regular basis? How do you ensure that the sprinkler system is inspected annually?
  2. Do you maintain all of the records from the inspections?
  3. Does your house have an alarm when the sprinkler system is activated?

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