OP-EDS

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October 13, 2006

Time to wake up

At 4:40 a.m. this Wednesday, the Shoreland fire alarm went off. The alert was unplanned, the result of a system malfunction. This came after Shoreland administrators had conducted a planned fire drill at 9 p.m. Tuesday night. During Tuesday’s drill, the alarm blared, students evacuated the building, and resident heads checked to make sure that every room was empty. But Wednesday’s alarm was different.

In the wee small hours of Wednesday morning, many students didn’t hear and slept through the alarm, while others chose to ignore it. The exit procedure was disorganized and haphazard. When firefighters declared the Shoreland to be safe around 30 minutes later, students stormed back into the building without any semblance of order, converging together in an unruly crowd and overwhelming the building’s few entrances.

Clearly the plan practiced a mere seven hours and 40 minutes earlier did not properly prepare students for a potentially hazardous situation. In the midst of a possible emergency, students remained at risk, and the evacuation procedure was exposed as insufficient. Administrators should not regard the early morning incident at the Shoreland a false alarm, but a wake-up call. Much needs to be done.

For starters, the alarm was not loud enough. Too many students slept through the warning alert, leaving them at serious risk in the case of an actual fire. An evacuation system that fails to warn and wake those in danger undoubtedly needs scrutiny, if not replacement.

In addition to assessing the failures of the current emergency system, administrators should reassess how hazardous situations are handled once the alarm has sounded.

Danger does not cease once students have left the building. Rather, every stage of an evacuation must be prepared for, practiced, and perfected. Procedures must be in place to preserve order throughout an incident. This high standard for safety requires assisting students as they exit, guiding them to safe locations outside the building, and managing their re-entry in a calm manner once the threat passes.

Students, similarly, must take responsibility for their own safety. In an age when emergencies are more inevitable than improbable, alarms and alerts have to be heeded and regarded with seriousness. Accidentally sleeping through an alarm is one thing, but ignoring a potential crisis is another, and that is unacceptable.

The “false alarm” at the Shoreland should sound a serious warning throughout the University community. After this wake-up call, no administrator, resident head, or student has any excuse to be caught sleeping.