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A Whole New World for Emergency Programs

Just as automotive students work on real cars, or art majors create real pieces, the students in Anne Petersen’s, associate professor in the School of Construction, Environmental & Safety Program Development class can work on a real time, new problem. 

“The students in this class will be environmental or safety managers in companies (construction, manufacturing, etc.) upon graduation,” Petersen said. “For this course, I try to prepare them for writing safety or environmental programs for their companies.” 

Programs such as what to do in case of an emergency, like a fire or a tornado. Petersen said that most of the time, companies will already have programs written. However, students must know everything that goes into a program so that they can ensure Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations are being met.  

“Prior to the pandemic, we were working with emergency action plans for a mock company,” Petersen said.  

Since then, Petersen reached out to safety managers of five different companies to learn how they were dealing with the pandemic in their facility. Some of whom were past PSU graduates. 

“I thought it would be a great learning experience for the students as most safety programs did not have this type of extreme event in their planning,” Petersen said. “They had to conduct research and gather information from reputable sources in order to create these procedures.” 

While Petersen’s students did not practice writing plans for actual companies, the pandemic provided a scenario in which they must write a plan over the completely new and uncharted issue of COVID-19. 

“I felt that the students really took this assignment seriously,” Petersen said. “It was something new and hard to research as the information was ever-changing. I think it was challenging and, at the time, very applicable to what was going on in the world at the time. The students could really feel the changes as they too were making changes in their own lives.” 

Amber Atkins, senior in environmental and safety management, a student of Petersen, recently started an internship in Denver, Colo. for a construction company. She currently interns under a safety manager and hopes to work for that company once her internship meets its end.   

“I haven’t had to deal with writing a lot of safety programs with the company I’m at right now because they mainly have a lot of heightened safety measures,” Atkins said. “You can’t even get close to your coworkers.”  

Atkins said that her company is following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, and they have not written a new safety program specifically involving COVID-19, but they do have programs under infectious diseases. However, Atkins was glad she had the experience of writing a safety program over COVID19 in Petersen’s class.  

“I liked writing the program and getting that experience writing a program and using a real-life application,” Atkins said. “But as for creating a program here, I have to agree with my company right now that it’s no more beneficial to write one than to use the CDC guidelines because the information on this virus is constantly changing. I hope they don’t have to make an official COVID plan because I want this virus to go away.” 

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