It’s a familiar sight and sound to everyone – the buzzing and flashing of a fire alarm. However, while it may seem common-sense, students don’t always evacuate the building when the alarm sounds.
Investigator Dan Peeler says there can be many reasons for that. “We see it from time to time during fire drills where students have headphones on or they were asleep and they say they didn’t hear it.”
Other times, students don’t evacuate after the alarm has sounded more than once, prompting them to think the alarm is a prank.
Assistant Director of Residential Life Shawn McQuillan says that ResLife is focused on making the student body safe. “While we do have planned fire drills, and obviously we don’t announce them because we want students to treat every fire alarm as a potential risk, we never know what is. When the fire alarm goes off, our main purpose is to get everyone out of the building.”
Apartments in Regents Park, the Village and Park River also have individual smoke detectors installed, and Public Safety stresses the importance of evacuating the area and giving them a call if an alarm sounds in your apartment, even if you think you know what triggered it.
Peeler says he’s hesitant to use the term ‘false alarm’. “It’s really not a false alarm, the alarm is doing its job. It’s detecting the steam, and the hair products…sometimes hairspray will set them off.” he says. “It doesn’t differentiate between smoke and steam, it sees it all as smoke and sets the alarm off.”
Public Safety says that students with hearing impairments should report that to ResLife and Facilities so an alternate alarm can be installed in their residence.
Highlighting the importance of immediate evacuation is the 2000 story of Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. Two freshmen students set fire to couches in a residence hall as a prank. Because there had been a long history of false alarms at the residence hall, students did not immediately evacuate. Three students lost their lives, and several students suffered severe injuries as a result.