Meet the University of Houston First Responders

first responders

First Responders play a crucial role in everyday life as they are often the first to arrive and provide aid, whether responding to safety, fire, medical, hazardous materials, or other similar emergencies. At the University of Houston, the departments designated as first responders are ready to assist the campus community at the drop of a hat.

Meet the first responders on campus and learn about their important role in keeping the UH campus community safe.

University of Houston Police Department

uhpdUHPD is among the biggest departments in the university that fall under the first responder designation. The department has 194 employees including officers, dispatchers, and support staff.

While police have been a part of UH since 1967, the department only recently started going by UHPD five years ago. Previously, it was known as the Department of Public Safety. But no matter what the department is called, keeping the campus community safe has always been its priority.

“The main underlying factor, and why we’re here is to provide a safe campus environment,” said UHPD Assistance Chief of Police Chandra Johnson. “We want to provide that safe campus environment. However, we want people to feel as if they’re safe walking around campus, driving to campus, and when attending classes.”

UHPD can be seen year-round at numerous campus events such as commencement, sporting events, escorting students to their cars at night, and patrolling the campus.

To better assist the campus community, Johnson said UHPD wants to be seen consistently around campus at university events – not just when they are working.

“The community needs to trust us by seeing us. And we need to trust them by them communicating to us,” said Johnson. “It needs to be an open dialogue, where everyone’s comfortable saying what needs to be said.”

For campus community members that require UHPD’s assistance, the quickest way to connect with UHPD is via the UH GO app, which connects users with a UHPD dispatcher. UHPD can also be contacted by call or text at (713) 743-3333.

Fire & Life Safety

uh fireUH hired its first fire marshal in 1989 to lead the Fire Safety Department, later renamed Fire Marshal’s Office. At the time, the department was a part of Environmental Health and Safety. It later split from EHS and became what is now known as Fire & Life Safety.

The name changed allowed it to include additional departments, like Food Safety, that now fall under the purview of the Fire Marshal.

Fire & Life Safety has a team of 12, including one employee who works at UH at Sugar Land.

On campus, Fire & Life Safety conducts building inspections, reviews new construction plans, conducts fire investigations and responds to calls as needed. Some of these calls include investigating odors in buildings, leaking fire hydrants, gas smells, and anything fire related.

“As a first responder, we also provide public education and community outreach,” said Chris McDonald, Executive Director of Fire & Life Safety.

The public education offered by the department ranges from general fire safety to teaching people how to use a fire extinguisher and conducting fire drills. And community outreach is an important part of keeping the campus community safe.

“We’re helping them become more fire safety aware of their surroundings, so they can let us know before it becomes an emergency,” said McDonald.

To contact Fire & Life Safety in the event of an emergency, campus community members can contact UHPD dispatch who will then connect the user with Fire & Life Safety.

Office of Emergency Management

oemThe Office of Emergency Management started in UH after 9/11 as the university wanted an emergency management function. For the next 10 years, the emergency management function operated out of UHPD.

"Starting around 2010, things started to move in the direction where they started to establish an Office of Emergency Management,” said OEM Director Ginger Walker.

The current OEM team consists of three staff members. A director, and two specialists.

Walker said that OEM is a unique unit as her team provides support to the other first responders on campus, primarily, UHPD and Fire & Life Safety.

“OEM is the department on campus that handles all of the communication coordination, planning, exercising with regard to ensuring that the university is prepared to respond to emergencies, has the plans in place to respond to emergencies, knows how to recover from those emergencies as well as mitigate their emergency,” said Walker.

For OEM, their work is aimed at prevention and preparedness before an emergency, just as much as it supports other first responders during an emergency.

The department conducts training exercises that educate people on how to handle and act during emergencies. These trainings include CERT (Community Emergency Response Training, Skywarn Storm Spotter Training, Hurricane Preparedness, Emergency Operations and Liaison training, and Ride-Out training.

To learn more about OEM, and the trainings they offer, visit their website at

Regulated Waste & Environmental Protection

The last first responder team at UH is the Regulated Waste & Environmental Protection Team which is a part of the Environmental Health & Safety department.

UH started having a dedicated team member to handle hazardous waste or spill in 2007. Before that, any hazardous waste or spill related emergency was part of Facilities/Construction Management.

Currently, it has a team of five individuals and four support staff that make up the Regulated Waste & Environmental Protection team.

The Waste and Environmental team handles emergencies dealing with everything from leaking air conditioners and batteries to large emergency generator tanks that house upwards of 48,000 gallons of petroleum product stored, and accidents like spills and released in research labs.

“Probably one of our most typical calls that we respond to is unknown containers,” said Regulated Waste & Environmental Protection Safety Manager John McNeely.

The Safety Manager said that unlabeled containers often have non-lethal items but stressed that it’s better to play it safe as sometimes it can be something that can blow up and cause damage.

Learn more about the Regulated Waste & Environmental Protection Team by visiting

These four first responders, UHPD, Fire & Life Safety, OEM, and the Regulated Waste & Environmental Protection Team, are comprised of dedicated individuals whose goal is safety on campus and for the campus community.