Slow response to false alarm raises concerns
February 28, 2008 9:52 AM
A recent string of false fire alarms and the subsequent response times of faculty, students and the University Police Department have frustrated at least one school administrator, who voiced concern about emergency preparedness.
In an e-mail sent to faculty in the College of Humanities, Associate Dean Elise Ann Wormuth wrote, “Had it been a real emergency, we would have had some serious difficulties in dealing with the situation.”
“Police were called to at least two buildings on campus at the same time, so their response to Humanities was very slow,” she added in the email dated Feb. 20, the day after a fire alarm was sounded in the building.
Despite student and administration reports of simultaneous fire alarms sounding in the Business and Humanities buildings last Tuesday, university officials confirmed only three alarms being triggered on separate occasions in a span of four days last week.
The recent false alarms and concerns involving SF State evacuation preparedness and emergency procedures come less than a week after the shooting tragedies at Northern Illinois University, in which five students were killed and 15 were wounded.
Aside from the Humanities building, fire alarms were triggered in the Village at Centennial Square and the HSS building in the following days, according to University Police Deputy Chief Patrick Wasley.
Students and faculty members expressed their annoyance over the false alarms.
"It was most inconvenient because I was holding office hours," said English Professor Paul Morris. "School security is paramount, but these false alarms are a fact of life."
"I was getting ready to take a quiz," said Jeanette Suelto, a financial services major who was in the Business building when a fire alarm sounded last Tuesday. "It seemed to go on for about five minutes before our teacher dismissed the class."
The fact that it was raining only made matters worse, she said. "It was all quite a hassle, but this isn't the first time I've heard the alarm sound."
Another student, Ashley Bergquist, an international business major, said that fire alarms sounding in the Humanities building is nothing out of the ordinary.
"Last semester, it seemed like an alarm sounded once a week at the exact same time," she said.
According to school administrators, it is vital that emergency evacuations be executed with precision and ease, even though this particular incident was only a false alarm.
“Faculty and students alike need to understand that even though we have had many false alarms, we must treat each one as if it's real,” Warmuth said. “Until we develop information about what's going on and why the alarm went off, we just don't know whether it's real or not.”
University officials did not comment on the source for the alarms, saying only, “Tampering with fire equipment is a misdemeanor, and in addition to criminal charges, students caught tampering with fire alarms are referred to student judicial affairs.”
“At the time each alarm is sounded, all faculty, students, staff and visitors should assume a genuine hazard, and evacuate quickly and orderly. Do not return until safety personnel have determined an 'all clear,'” Wasley said.
Reports of students being required to stay in class by faculty during the evacuation could not be confirmed by administration officials.
“It's unfortunate, but not all that unusual for a couple of people to assume an alarm is a drill or a false alarm and stay in the building,” Wormuth said.
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