Dear Hillcrest Hall Residents and All Students, Faculty and Staff,
Last month, a combination of unrelated factors created a situation that resulted in carbon monoxide entering Hillcrest Hall from the outdoors. This is both frightening and unacceptable. We understand the trust you have placed in us, as well as our responsibility, to provide safe residential experiences. What occurred at Hillcrest Hall violated that trust and did not meet the standard that we have set at Miami University. We deeply regret this occurred.
Working closely with Prater Engineering, we have conducted a thorough investigation into the occurrence of carbon monoxide at Hillcrest Hall, and have worked to determine if there are potential sources of carbon monoxide in other campus buildings. What we discovered is that a combination of unrelated factors created a situation in which exhaust from a water heater could be pulled inside the building.
Under normal circumstances, our buildings are designed to have positive pressure to prevent outside air from unintentionally being drawn into the building. Unfortunately, an air handler malfunctioned in Hillcrest Hall earlier in the day. This resulted in negative pressure in the south wing of the building, allowing outside air to be pulled into the building through small conduit holes near where the carbon monoxide from a water heater was being exhausted to the outdoors. Additionally, winds trapped the air containing carbon monoxide near the side of the building rather than allowing it to disperse. Meanwhile, a fan coil unit located near where the carbon monoxide entered the building was running intermittently due to the drop in temperature. This unit’s enclosure also allowed the carbon monoxide to travel from the lower floor where it entered to the second and third floors of Hillcrest Hall. While these factors are unlikely to be replicated, we are taking every precaution to ensure our campus community is safe and have checked all of our other campus buildings to determine if there is a similar risk. We have found no further problems.
The most frequent question we have received is “why don’t the residential buildings at Miami have carbon monoxide detectors as normally is required by building code?” Under state building and fire codes, if there is no carbon monoxide produced in a building OR if a carbon monoxide source is sealed and exhausted directly outdoors without entering sleeping quarters, monitors are not required. Our buildings are heated through a central plant so no carbon monoxide is created through the heating and cooling system in the buildings. The only source of carbon monoxide is the aforementioned water heaters in some buildings, which are sealed and vented directly outside. The architects and engineers who designed and constructed our buildings ensured we met code requirements and the Office of the State Fire Marshall inspected the buildings and approved them for occupancy.
With the knowledge gained from the recent event, we are in the process of determining how to potentially eliminate the water heaters in campus buildings and to install a centrally monitored carbon monoxide system in all residential buildings. This will ensure that if a temporary source of carbon monoxide, such as exhaust from an idling truck, should occur near one of these buildings and enter it, a carbon monoxide alarm would be sent immediately to the local fire department, the Miami University Police dispatch center, and the central facilities monitoring function.
In addition to the more permanent improvements that will be made over the summer, the following actions beyond those already taken for Hillcrest Hall are being implemented:
- Installing temporary carbon monoxide detectors in all the remaining residence halls before students return to campus in January;
- Relocating the hot water heater exhaust vents away from Hillcrest Hall before students return to campus in January;
- Conducting additional evaluations of hot water heating systems in other buildings to determine if any exhaust near buildings could be drawn into a building;
- Working with the Office of the State Fire Marshall to review the adequacy of the steps being taken by Miami University; and
- Encouraging the Office of the State Fire Marshall to consider removing the code exception for carbon monoxide sensors.
This week and next, we will be hosting two town hall sessions (one for students and one for parents) to answer any questions you may have about the cause of the carbon monoxide event and the steps being taken to prevent this from occurring in the future. Please see your email for details on how to attend.
Given the disruption that the residents of Hillcrest Hall experienced last month, we will be providing these residents with a $250 credit on their housing bills for this spring.
We want to reiterate that we understand your fears and frustrations, and we hold sacred our responsibility to keep our students safe. We fully intend to address the issues identified in the Hillcrest Hall event and prevent the possibility of something similar occurring again. We appreciate your consideration as we implement the changes and continue to work with our experts to make certain that nothing has been overlooked.
The Institutional Response Team