SRU’s Novak leads facilities safety upgrades


maltby roof construction safety

(From left) Joan Allen, an SRU architectural designer, and Josh Blair, owner of Blair Construction, review plans as work continues on the new roof being installed at Maltby Center. Dylan Renfrew, a roofer, can be seen in the background. The Maltby Center project is one of several environmental safety projects currently in process.

Nov. 5, 2015

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Should a fire start in a Slippery Rock University room equipped with a significant amount of technology, rather than dousing the fire with ceiling sprinklers and risking water damage, SRU is switching to a special fire suppression system that does not harm technology.

paul novak


The new procedure is one of several emergency preparedness upgrades being implemented across campus under the direction of Paul Novak, interim executive director for planning and environmental health and safety.

Other safety-first initiatives include a new Facilities and Planning Emergency Response Trailer that can be dispatched to the scene of an incident, updated alarm technologies and replacement of old copper telephone lines with dedicated fire fiber loops.

"We're being proactive and investing in safety technology and equipment because it is an investment in our students," said Novak, who also serves as the University's emergency management administrator.

Novak manages many aspects of environmental and occupational safety, areas that are very different from police and public safety. Novak oversees fire safety, risk management, emergency management and building safety. His responsibilities include fire safety system testing and maintenance, emergency operations, hazardous and infectious waste disposal, safety and risk assessments and asbestos abatement. Novak was recently assigned additional responsibilities involving the planning of campus building construction and renovation projects.

On the buildings and grounds side, the new Facilities and Planning Emergency Response Trailer will reduce the response time by facilities and planning staff for power outages, flooding issues and other related emergency situations. Ladders, rubber boots, a generator and other equipment are permanently stored in the trailer.

"We were wasting time by not having all our equipment centrally located," Novak said. "If we lose power, if an emergency goes down, we hook up the trailer to a truck and we're off."

Novak said the special fire suppression system is being installed into two buildings he declined to name except to say they have a large IT presence.

"There is a huge investment in technology," he said. "It (technology) is important to delivering quality instruction and distance learning. The special fire system is state of the art. Unlike most fire suppression systems, which are pretty much water that destroys whatever it hits, the special agent has a unique chemical property that will put out a fire but not destroy any electrical components."

Novak said the innovative system discharges an extinguishing agent in the form of a mist and if activated could save the University significant money in damages and loss of instructional tools.

"It is significant in terms of replacement costs and continuity of operations," he said.

Another upgrade involves replacing old phone lines in four buildings with computer-operated fiber optics referred to as a fire fiber loop. The fire loops will help to prevent false fire alarms or a fire alarm not going off. The fiber loop is strictly for fire alarm detection.

"There are many buildings on campus that are still operating on what we call the old copper technology, which is phone lines," he said. "These phone lines are 30 to 50 years old and are deteriorating. We put in what we call the fire fiber loop, which will serve as the backbone through which all building fire alarms will operate. We're planning to upgrade all of the buildings so that our campus facilities will have the most state-of-the art fire protection technology available."

The updated alarm technologies will connect to a new communication panel in the University Police headquarters and other buildings and enhance existing mass notification equipment as an added safety component, Novak said. These panels will enable police or environmental health and safety personnel to issue messages to people on the scene of an emergency from either inside or outside of a building with the touch of a button.

"It's a true mass notification system," Novak said.

Another development that reduces response time by first responders is SRU's codification of street addresses on signs in front of campus buildings and address numbers on the buildings themselves.

Novak said he shares information about the University's safety initiatives with students during safety and emergency training sessions and with parents during campus orientation programs

"I go over all the different aspects of fire safety and emergency communications. I am increasingly approached by parents during orientations," he said. "They say it (the University's approach to safety) is good and positive because it gives them a feeling of comfort to know that their sons, daughters and loved ones have the utmost opportunity to be safe at Slippery Rock University. To me, these comments mean the most."