A woman is working in a dimly lit Arizona State University laboratory alone. She knocks over a bottle of chemicals. When she returns with a spill kit to clean it up, there is an explosion. The other workers in the building evacuate as ASU Police and Tempe Fire Department rush to the scene. Crime scene investigators arrive - and then the opening credits roll to The Who's "Who Are You."
No, this isn't the beginning of a CSI episode, but it could easily be mistaken for one. Instead, these are the opening scenes of "The Incident," a laboratory safety training video made for the university's Environmental Health and Safety Department in conjunction with ASU Student Media Creative Services.
In July, the training video won the Solutions at Work Award, an international honor from the Campus Safety Health and Environmental Management Association.
The video is integrated into the lab safety course 2,000 ASU laboratory workers must take each year.
"We wanted to provide more effective training so employees would have better (lab safety) training," said Michael Ochs, the assistant director of occupational health and safety. "People were falling into what I call a PowerPoint-coma, where there are too many slides and people stop paying attention. So we reduced the number of slides and increased the entertainment value, and that's where student media comes in."
Ochs helped write the script and was the actor for the video's character based off of CSI's "Grissom."
The Incident gave ASU students, faculty and staff a rare opportunity to write, direct, act film, edit and produce a nearly 30-minute video.
Most of the actors in the film are students in the Herberger Institute for Arts and Design. "Many film students have the same projects in their portfolios, but this project is something different and it will be something to set their work apart," Dickson said.
Using student volunteers helped keep costs low, Ochs said.
The collaboration worked with an $8,000 budget, Ochs said. Had a professional team done a project of the same caliber, it probably would have cost the university about $25,000 to $30,000, he said.
The money that the university did spend on the training video was pumped directly back into another ASU program, Ochs said.
Taxpayers got a better deal for their money, and none of the money left the university, Ochs reasoned.
Student Media was able to buy additional cameras, lighting equipment and to rent props like a fog machine, said Joseph Lao, a psychology senior who directed and edited the film and helped write and film the video.
Overall, the video took a lot of coordination between many groups.
Getting the script just right was difficult, as it had to be interesting and entertaining while simultaneously plausible and informative, both Dickson and Ochs said.
Tempe Fire Department and ASU Police dedicated one hour of a shift to film the emergency response sequence for the video. The university approved filming, including a chase scene on building rooftops.
But not everything went according to plan. During the shooting of the evacuation scene, the fog machine used to simulate smoke set off fire alarms forcing a real evacuation, said Hayley Kosan, a film senior and first assistant director for the film. The fire alarms were supposed to be disconnected on the floor where they were filming, but somehow the fog reached active alarms.
The video has three segments in the half-hour "episode." Between each segment is a "commercial break" that allows for slide information that incorporates the safety breaches shown in the film with the laboratory safety information.
Multiple universities and science companies, including University of Oregon, Northern Arizona University and University of Hawaii, have requested copies of the video to use in their safety training courses, Ochs said. Companies like Henkel and Pacific Biosciences are also interested in using the video.
But more than receiving international and national accolades, the university interest is high as well.
Staff who viewed the video felt there was a certain amount of authenticity because a few of the characters were played by actual faculty and staff at ASU, Ochs said. By shooting in buildings and classrooms, the ASU staff who viewed it felt connected and interested in the video. Plus, it's better than the original 90-plus slide PowerPoint, Ochs said.
A few professors are looking to use the video in their courses, such as chemistry, to teach lab safety.
Ochs plans to enter the film in additional contests.