The ruling body for fire safety codes is the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). This entity determines the fire safety codes and is the recognized standard by which all businesses are to follow.

It is the NFPA that sets the codes for the types of sprinkler systems that must be or can be installed in a building primarily based on its occupancy. In 1896, they developed the first code for systems in residential or habitational type occupancies: NFPA 13.

NFPA 13 is designed to serve two distinct purposes:

  • To eliminate the risk of bodily injury or death of residents/guests
  • To significantly reduce fire damage to the property and any subsequent water damage from the fire response efforts

The building must be 100% sprinklered including attic space whether accessible or not. The costs to install can be substantial for the following reasons:

  • Piping must be steel which is more labor intensive to fabricate.
  • Attics must be also be sprinklered.
  • Aesthetic work is more substantial with the exposed steel pipes.

For a variety of reasons such as cost and labor, NFPA came out with a modified code in the 1970s for residential housing: NFPA 13R (Residential). The main purpose of this risk management tool was purely the protection of lives, unlike NFPA 13 which also was protecting the physical property.

A criterion for the residential housing was that the structure had to be less than four stories in height. As such, the sorority chapter houses did qualify for 13R status, with the only caveat being the attics were not to be used for any purposes and were to have limited access to the attic space.

When the interest for sprinkler systems began to escalate, we were successful in getting the insurance company to provide substantial credits for a property that met the NFPA 13R code. Even though the primary benefit was life safety or the liability exposure, the insurance company agreed to apply this credit to the property premium due to our rationale, which included the following:

  • As generally 57% of the account premium is for the property exposure whereas the liability was only 15% thus the dollar discount was far more substantial
  • As an inducement to get the property owners to budget for a sprinkler system
  • To support the best risk management tool for life safety of your members, employees and guests

Over the years, we have seen an exposure emerge which has become a challenge, which is that the chapter house attics frequently aren’t sprinklered. Of the six property fires over $100,000 in claim cost, four of them started in the attic, which was unsprinklered and had no other type of fire detection system.

The biggest problem comes from the fact that the fire burns for some time in the attic and/or roof area, and it isn’t until it burns through the attic flooring for the debris to land on the next floor before the sprinkler system is engaged and the fire department is alerted. The second problem then comes when the fire department gets there and has to release far more water than normal to extinguish the fire. Subsequently, you have more of your building damaged by the fire and more water damage in trying to put it out.

The liability insurance company underwriters are still very pleased that there is reduced if not completely eliminated bodily injury exposure, but the property underwriters are growing concerned about the exposure of attic fires.

The obvious solution to this dilemma is to install sprinklers in the attic, but this would be virtually impossible for expense reasons. We have done extensive research on this matter and can reach no other conclusion.

We can however recommend another solution to the fire protection alert delay that presently exists which is the installing of a heat sensor to your existing fire alarm system in the attic space. The fire department gets alerted to a fire much faster than without sensors, and there is ultimately less property damage along with the life safety benefit. For further reading on heat sensors, check out these additional resources.

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For more information on preventing phishing scams, review this resource from Chubb, the cyber security carrier for MJ Sorority clients.

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Rates of mental illness on campus that were already concerning prior to the onset of the Covid-19 are skyrocketing: one in three college students are suffering from depression and even more have anxiety disorders.  

Women’s fraternities and sororities are being called upon to educate their members and volunteers in this area of growing need. From a risk management standpoint, we always recommend that students reach out to their respective campus mental health professionals; however, the mean student-to-counseling-staff ratio at colleges and universities is 1,737:1, according to a survey of counseling center directors. Clearly, the campus counseling services are unable to handle the sheer number of students in need of help. 

We have researched several affordable options that you may want to share with your members and volunteers. If you have additional suggestions, please send them to Sara Sterley, Director of Risk Management Education, so that she can continue to update this resource for our client’s use.


National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)

One of the options available for mental health well-being is the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). NAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI defines a mental illness as a “condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior or mood.” NAMI also states that the first thing those who have or think they might have a mental illness need to know is that “you are not alone.” NAMI provides a variety of resources, trainings, information, programs and tools to help, including:

  • Warning Signs and Symptoms – There are many types of conditions classified as mental illness, and each illness has its own set of symptoms. Knowing the signs and symptoms is important as a self-help tool as well as a way to help someone else in need.
  • Mental Health Conditions – This section offers information such as an overview, treatment, support and discussion groups for a variety of conditions, including:
    • Anxiety disorders.
    • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
    • Bipolar disorder.
    • Depression.
    • Eating disorders.
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
    • Schizophrenia.
  • NAMI Blog – Provides blog posts on a variety of topics related to mental illness and well-being. Readers also have the option to search for a specific topic or search by categories or through the archives.
  • Video Resource Library – Videos of inspirational stories, public service announcements, education shorts and more.
  • Support Groups – Peer-led groups offering participants an opportunity to share their experiences and gain support from other attendees.
  • NAMI HelpLine – Available 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday at 800-950-NAMI (6264) or via email at info@nami.org.
  • Crisis Text Line – Text HOME to 741741 to be connected with a trained crisis counselor to receive free 24/7 crisis support via text message.
  • Warning Signs of a Mental Health Crisis – Infographic quickly outlines warning signs and what to do in a mental health crisis.
  • Navigating a Mental Health Crisis: A NAMI Resource Guide for Those Experiencing a Mental Health Emergency – Guide outlines what can contribute to a crisis, warning signs that a crisis is emerging, strategies to de-escalate a crisis, available resources and more.

Mental Health America

Mental Health America is a non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of people living with mental illness. The organization has offices and branches around the country, and a comprehensive “finding help” tool that includes self-assessment tools, links to finding someone in your community to talk to, and even tips on how to make the most of your relationship with a therapist or social worker, as well as a crisis number you can call in case of emergency (1-800-273-TALK).

Additionally, Mental Health America offers resources specifically geared toward college students, and they’ll help with other aspects of your life  that may be impacted by mental health issues. 

2-1-1

One of the best and most overlooked services is the 211 service that most municipal areas have. You can dial to find out about mental health, counseling, or other resources available in your community and beyond. The FCC’s “Dial 211″ info page has a wealth of information about what you can learn when you call them.

They don’t offer mental health and counseling services directly, but they can refer you to appropriate services in your area. 211 is free, but some of the services they have access to aren’t, so keep that in mind.

Talkspace

Talkspace is one of the original online therapy companies that enables users to connect with licensed mental health professionals based on their individual needs. There are various subscription levels available depending on one’s budget and needs.

Additionally, Talkspace offers corporate discounts for organizations who may want to offer the platform to their members.

BetterHelp

BetterHelp is the world’s largest e-counseling platform, and it’s not just one type of counseling: you can choose to message, chat live, hop on the phone, or video chat with your therapist an unlimited number of times per week. Check out their website and over 25,000 testimonials to learn more.


Calm

Apple’s 2017 App of the Year, Calm is an app that helps you build a meditation practice that has been proven to help alleviate stress and anxiety. In addition, there are options to aid sleep. It really helps to develop a daily practice, and also enjoy a moment of calm and peacefulness when the day becomes too stressful. Many of the meditations are free, but some of the sessions are locked unless you subscribe.

What’s Up

What’s up is a free app that uses Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) methods to help users cope with depression, anxiety, stress, and more. What’s Up offers additional resources and services to large groups like sororities to boost the mental health of their constituents.

Headspace

Headspace is another free app that is rooted in the science of meditation. It has series of guided and unguided meditations, and plenty of other relevant content to listen in your own time and at your own pace.

SuperBetter

SuperBetter is a game focused on increasing resiliency, strength, and optimism. When people played SuperBetter for 30 days, their moods improved, symptoms decreased, and self-belief in achieving goals increased, according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania.  SuperBetter is designed to help users adopt new habits, strengthen relationships, complete meaningful projects, and achieve lifelong goals. If you still don’t believe that a game can do all of that, watch this viral TED talk from the game’s designer.


Happy to help

This is obviously a huge issue to get our arms around. Let us know how we can come alongside you to bolster the mental health of your members, volunteers, and employees.

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You may or may not have had the opportunity to consider building new or renovating your sorority chapter house. It would be an understatement to say that there has been chaos in the construction market. Cost of materials has skyrocketed, and materials continue to be difficult to come by. A representation from a large national construction firm recently remarked, “rebuilding the same property compared to a year ago would cost at least seventeen percent more. Such increases have been fueled by an overwhelming demand for building materials and the supply chain bottleneck.”
 Why is this important for your chapter house? As an insured, you are obligated under your insurance coverage to insure your building and contents at the valuation of replacement cost, which does not reflect any depreciation of values due to age. The insurance company is then obligated to “repair or replace for like kind and quality” should your property be damaged due to a covered cause of loss.

We are seeing new construction come in at a minimum of $200 per square foot (except in California where it is more like a minimum of $350 per square foot). In looking at near and medium term factors that will continue to affect your property valuation, the effects of inflation combined with more costly natural catastrophes, which are occurring far more frequently.

The issue of valuation is further complicated in catastrophe-prone areas by the fact that potentially thousands of insured businesses will be seeking construction and professional services, such as roofers and other trades, to begin repairs on their properties at the same time. As a result, the costs of labor and materials will increase substantially (often ten to fifteen percent increases), which will then impact the cost of the claim.

Another influence we have been noticing in the Sorority Department is a substantial increase in the cost of a claim. Our records indicate a jump over the last six years of 223 percent on average

We want to continue to make you aware of the trends in the marketplace. If you want to discuss your current insurance limits, we encourage you to reach out to your Client Executive to ensure you are adequately insured in light of the rapidly changing market conditions.

Originally published in the April 2022 News & Notes.
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Every state has laws regarding the care and maintenance of certain mechanical pieces of equipment that potentially pose a greater risk to residents/occupants/guests in a sorority chapter house. This exposure is often referred to as boiler and pressurized vessels. We generally think of the steam operated boilers that heat a house; however, even hot water heaters in some states are also included.

Generally speaking, these laws require: (1) an operating permit to be obtained from the State Department or jurisdiction prior to operating a regulated boiler or pressure vessel; (2) all operating permit inspections to be performed by a boiler or pressure vessel inspector licensed by the Department; and (3) the Department to perform operating permit inspections on all regulated boiler or pressure vessels owned by the state.

Your insurance coverage for boilers and pressurized vessels is part of your property insurance coverage. In addition to paying for a claim should one of these items explode, the coverage also provides extensive safety engineering and inspection services which will ultimately minimize the potential for a loss.

As the law prescribes, inspections must be performed on a regular basis as determined by the state law. These could be anywhere from a quarterly to an annual inspection. As part of your insurance premium, these inspections are done by your property insurer Travelers Insurance Company, and they are free of charge. 

The jurisdiction however should they be asked to inspect by the building owner would have a fee attached to that service, thus why we encourage our clients to rely exclusively upon your insurance company to fulfill this role.

There are basically two separate transactions with this exposure:

  • Safety inspection-offered free of charge by the insurance company
  • Issuance of the certification that is placed on the item that has a small fee assessed for the certificate by the jurisdiction, which the property owner will be responsible for paying as this is not included in the insurance coverage

The process is as follows:

  • 30-45 days prior to the expiration date of the boiler or other item, Travelers secures from MJ the contact information for the house corporation and the property is inspected by a Travelers Risk Control representative. This contact person will also be receiving the invoice from the state for the issuance of the certificate. They will also be the individual receiving the certificate back from the state.
  • During the inspection, they will be commenting on anything related to equipment-electrical exposures, panel concerns, etc.
  • The report of the inspection is sent to the house corporation with any violations or items noted that will need to be addressed by the property owner.
  • Upon addressing the violations or items, Travelers then sends the status to the jurisdiction.
  • The jurisdiction will send an invoice to the property owner and once the invoice is paid, the certification will be provided.
  • The certificate then needs to be prominently posted to provide to a fire marshal or someone from the jurisdiction requesting proof of the inspection.
  • Should there be a mix up with Travelers missing the inspection and the state must do the inspection and then charge you, let us know as we will work with Travelers to pay that costs.

Should you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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The milder days of spring are a perfect time to do a thorough spring cleaning and perform routine maintenance. After a long winter, it is a good idea to spend time on preventive measures to help maintain your property throughout the year. Tasks such as cleaning out your gutters, checking for dead trees and branches and cleaning and inspecting facility mechanical and plumbing systems, such as heating and air conditioning equipment, can help make spring a season of safety.

Cleaning and maintenance of your chapter house should be done inside and out. Although the tasks are different, checking to see if all the elements of your property are in good working order can help keep your members and employees safe and your maintenance expenses lower over the long run.

Inside the Chapter House

Here are a few things inside your facility that should be inspected to determine if they are in good condition:

  • Electrical Outlets and Cords: Check electrical outlets and cords throughout your property for any potential fire hazards such as frayed wires or loose-fitting plugs. Extension cords and power strips are not designed to be permanent fixtures and should only be used on an interim basis.
  • Fire Extinguishers: Check your fire extinguishers at least once yearly, including the hose, nozzle and other parts to determine if they are in good condition and that the pressure gauge is in the “green” range. Check the expiration date.
  • Air Conditioning: Check around the unit for indications of leaks. Before turning it on for the season, have your air-conditioning system inspected and tuned up by a professional. Check the drain lines annually and clean them if they are clogged. Change the air filter.
  • Water Heater: Check for leaks and corrosion. Check your owner’s manual for any recommended maintenance.
  • Furnace or Boiler: Have your furnace or boiler cleaned or inspected annually.
  • Under Sinks and Around Toilets: Look for any signs of leaks or corrosion on pipes, supply lines and fixtures.
  • Plumbing: Check exposed pipes and valves in your basement or crawl spaces, if safely accessible, for signs of leaking or corrosion.
  • Appliances: Check supply lines for washing machines, ice makers and water dispensers, refrigerators, and dishwashers for signs of leaks or wear and tear.
  • Plumbing for Hose Spigots and Irrigation Systems: After opening valves for outdoor water supplies, be sure to inspect components for leaks. Don’t forget to check inside plumbing as well as outdoor spigots.
  • Dryers: Dryer lint can build up inside the vent pipe and collect around the duct. Clean both the clothes dryer exhaust duct and the space under the dryer. Use a brush to clean out the vent pipe. Look for lint buildup around the lint trap and clean it as needed.
  • Smoke Detectors: Daylight savings time is a good time to change the batteries in your smoke detectors. Inspect each smoke detector to determine if all are in working order, and make sure to test them monthly.
  • Light bulbs: Check each light bulb in every fixture for the correct recommended wattage and replace any burned out bulbs.

Outside the Chapter House

The cold winter months can do damage to your property as well. Here are a few things outside your facility that should be inspected to ensure they are in good condition:

  • Roof: Check for any damage from snow or ice, and make any necessary repairs to reduce the possibility of leaks. If you have a skylight, check outside for a buildup of leaves and debris. Also, check the indoor ceiling for signs of leaks. Remember to put safety first any time you are on a roof. If you have any doubt, leave it to the professionals.
  • Gutters: Clean leaves and other debris from gutters and downspouts to keep water flowing and reduce the possibility of water damage.
  • Trees: Visually inspect trees for damage or rot, and remove (consider hiring a licensed professional) any dead trees that might blow over in heavy winds or during a storm. Keep healthy trees and bushes trimmed and away from utility wires.
  • Lawn Equipment: Make sure lawn mowers, tractors and other equipment are tuned up before using. Store oil and gas for lawn equipment and tools in a vented, locked area.
  • Walkways and Driveways: Repair any cracks and broken or uneven surfaces to provide a safer, level walking area.

A little home maintenance in the spring can go a long way to help keep the chapter house safe and secure throughout the rest of the year.

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In the MJ Sorority Program, sixty-one percent of the property claims are due to water damage to your building and your contents. The top three areas of water damage events are the following: water pipes bursting, frozen pipes thawing, and backup of sewers and drains. Burst pipes, roof leaks, overflowing toilets and leaking appliances can cause significant damage. These types of water damage can also result in business interruption, relocation costs, lost rents and can negatively impact your reputation as a business.

Water damage claims can be very disruptive to your operations, especially in today’s environment with the shortage of building materials and construction supplies. Though you do have very broad water damage insurance protection, as the property owner, you should consider all types of tools to help you prevent water damage events and/or reduce the impact of a water claim.

One of the best things that you can do to reduce and prevent water damage is to install a flow-based water leak detection device. The most comprehensive tool available is a leak protection system, which includes both a flow-based monitoring system along with leak detectors or water sensors.

How does a flow-based water shut-off device work?

Installed by a plumber directly onto your water line, a flow-based water leak detection device monitors the flow of water throughout your sorority chapter house. If an unusual activity or flow of water is detected – probably caused by a leak somewhere in your plumbing or pipes – the device will alert you first and then shut off your water supply to help minimize damage.

How do water sensors work?

The water sensors can detect the presence of water, often by measuring the electrical conductivity of the water present and completing a circuit to send a signal to either an email or text.

Where should water sensors be placed?

In addition to washing machines, hot water heaters, dishwashers, damaged supply lines to automatic ice makers and overflowing toilets are some areas where water damage inside the home can occur, often without advanced warning. Performing regular maintenance and checking for rusty, corroded, or damaged water supply lines and other potential problems before you have a leak is one of the best ways to help prevent water damage.

You might want to install water sensors in areas near:

  • Washing machines
  • Dishwashers
  • Refrigerators with ice makers and water dispensers
  • Hot water heaters
  • Sinks
  • Toilets
  • Furnaces connected to water systems, including hot air system humidifiers

Additional Tips to Consider

Choose a flow-based leak detection device

While individual sensors that simply detect the pressure of water are acceptable, they cannot test for microleaks, monitor water usage, or detect burst pipes in walls or under foundations. The flow-based devices provide enhanced protection, functionality, durability, reliability, accuracy, and great value for the cost.

Speaking of cost, we have had several clients install the flow-based devices and the costs for a typical sorority chapter house range from $2,500-$4,000 a location. When leak detection and flow monitors are installed, your property will be eligible for a five percent discount to our property insurance premium.

Select a device that automatically shuts off the water when a pipe ruptures or in an unattended water anomaly. These preferred flow-based devices not only detect trouble, but also help mitigate the problem itself.

Hire a plumber to professionally install your flow-based leak detection device – it should be installed on your domestic water main pipe near where it enters your chapter house. These devices will need access to a power outlet and a wi-fi router signal.

Consider using one of these best-in-class leak detection devices recommended by Travelers Insurance Company, who they have partnered with for preferred pricing of their products:

Other leak detection companies that we have researched include the following:

Determine your water main pipe size to order the right produce size – ask your licensed plumber, contractor or the product vendor to assist you in picking out the best device for your chapter house.

As we mentioned in above, roughly sixty-one percent of the property claims are water damage-related. Any preventive action will certainly reduce, not only the amount of damage, but, as importantly, the disruption that might arise with a large water damage claim. Even when the claim is handled expediently and thoroughly, it often requires your member residents to have to relocate to other lodging for a time, which obviously impacts their member experience and causes additional headaches for the House Corporation volunteers and/or property managers.

For further reading on preventing water damage, refer to our printable infographic or this resource for additional tips. For further information on water damage claims for the MJ Sorority book of business, refer to this infographic.

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Understanding the risks

In the event of flooding or a higher-than-normal water table due to heavy rains, sewage could back up through floor drains or plumbing fixtures located in a basement or lower level. When rising storm waters are expected, it is vitally important to establish a watch system to monitor your property drainage system to quickly identify and address any issues such as back-up, flooding, etc. Being prepared and responding quickly often minimizes the damage potential. The following are some methods to help minimize sewer backup into a building.

Floor drains

If sewage starts to back up into a home or business from the floor drains, it is possible to plug these drains. Floor drains are often at the lowest point in your facility and, as a result, may be the first entry point for sewage backup. Rubber or wooden plugs, purchased at many hardware stores, may be used to close off drains during heavy rains. If plugs are used, mark them prominently if they protrude beyond the floor level so they don’t become a tripping hazard.

Toilets, shower/bath drains and other fixtures

After plugging floor drains, if the sewer water level becomes high enough, it may fill and overflow other plumbing fixtures located in the basement or lower level. Plug these drain openings with stoppers or plugs. A string mop can be used to help plug toilet openings. Be aware that ceramic plumbing fixtures such as toilets may be fragile.

Important note:

Plugging of drains or fixtures should only be done where the condition of the sewer piping below the floor is considered to be strong and tight. Otherwise, heavy rainstorms or flooding may cause a build-up of water pressure within the house or business’ sewer system great enough to rupture pipe joints or damage basement floors.

Backwater prevention valves

Some properties may have backwater valves installed on sewer lines. Some are manually closed gate valves, while others are automatic check valves.

  • Manual valves – You can isolate your system from the sewer system by closing manual valves at the first sign of backup during heavy rains and flooding, or if you plan to leave the building
  • Automatic valves – Automatic check valves require periodic maintenance to ensure that they will operate properly when needed. If there hasn’t been a recent inspection and maintenance, this valve should be inspected and maintained as soon as possible if heavy rains or flooding are a possibility in the area

Remember that while the valve is closed and protecting your home or business from sewage backup, normal sewage flow from the building to the sanitary sewer is also cut off. This means that plumbing fixtures cannot be used unless a pump bypass is provided.

Local advice

Many towns also have a comprehensive website with information and advice regarding prevention techniques. You should also refer to your local municipality for assistance.

Leak detection

Leak detection devices are a great way to prevent a sewer backup from doing more significant damage. Click here for further reading.

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We have seen a dramatic increase in claims arising out of frozen pipes over the last two years. Frozen pipes can present an invisible threat – one that you might not recognize until the weather starts to warm. By then, the water damage can be significant and costly. Fortunately, keeping your home warmer, at a consistent temperature, and better insulated can help protect your pipes from freezing this winter.Which Pipes Are Most at Risk?

Pipes that are most exposed to the elements, including those outdoors and along the exterior walls of your home, likely need extra protection during winter months. These include the following:

  • Outdoor hose hookups and faucets.
  • Swimming pool supply lines.
  • Lawn sprinkler lines.
  • Water pipes in unheated, interior locations such as basements, crawl spaces, attics, garages and kitchen and bathroom cabinets.
  • Pipes running against exterior walls with little or no insulation.

Before winter:

  • Check your home for areas where water pipes are located in unheated or poorly insulated areas. Be sure to check your basement, attic, crawl space, garage and within cabinets containing plumbing. Hot and cold water pipes should both be insulated.
  • Products such as pipe sleeves or UL-listed heat tape or heat cable can help insulate or heat exposed water pipes.

During winter:

  • Close inside valves supplying water to outdoor faucets and hookups.
  • Open outdoor faucets to allow residual water to drain; be sure to keep them open during the cold weather months, while the water supply is turned off.
  • Keep garage doors closed to help protect water pipes located in the garage.
  • Open the doors on cabinets where plumbing is located. This can help allow warmer air to circulate around the pipes.
  • For pipes that are at risk of freezing (both hot and cold water pipes), let water drip from faucets.
  • Keep the heat in your home set at a minimum of 55 degrees.

Why is a Frozen Pipe a Concern?

When water begins to freeze, it expands. This can cause both plastic and metal pipes to burst, possibly leading to significant water damage to your home.

  • Since water expands when it freezes, it puts unwanted pressure on pipes.
  • As water freezes, the force exerted from the expansion can cause a pipe to burst, regardless of the strength of the material.
  • You may not know you have a burst pipe as the water has turned to ice. Once the temperature starts to warm and thawing begins, leaking and flooding can occur.

What Do You Do if You Have a Frozen Pipe?

  • If you have a leak, turn the water off immediately to prevent water damage and call a licensed plumber to make repairs. If your home is heated by an older steam heating system, consult with your heating professional to determine if it is safe to continue to run the heating system with the water supply turned off for your particular heating system.

How to Help Prevent Frozen Pipes
We have created a printable infographic with these reminders for your use.

In addition, make sure you complete MJ’s Winter Weather Checklist prior to the onset of winter weather. More detailed tips to manage the risk of frozen pipes is available here.

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Updated COVID-19 guidance for sorority chapters and house corporations as we begin the Fall 2021 academic year.

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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.)

Landscaping

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.

Maintenance

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.

Signage

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
    upgrades.
  4. Find resources and enhancements.
  5. Install equipment and implement
    changes.
  6. Develop training materials.
  7. Conduct ongoing training and drills.
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