Emergency drills need new strategy

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Rebecca Vicente

Throughout the month of November, emergency drill evacuations have demonstrated a severe lack of communication between faculty and students and have posed a cause for concern.

There was an emergency evacuation drill in the 23rd Street Building on Nov. 21. Letter-sized pages plastered on the columns in the lobby warned of an impending drill but omitted the time. When the alarm went off, professors stopped talking mid-sentence and urged students to leave.

From the 13th floor, it took about 25 minutes to descend. The instructions could only be heard when the stairwell doors opened to let people in and out. In this situation, it is inefficient and unsafe to have speakers in the hallways rather than in the stairwells. If there were ever an emergency on the lower floors, everyone in the stairwells would know last. This is an extremely flawed design that does not promote safety.

Professors were caught off guard by the easily overlooked and ambiguous signs posted in the lobby. They had no warning and there was no time to adjust their exam schedules based on this simple error. Therefore, due to the surprise drill, students who did not study enough had seen exams they should not have seen and knew exactly what to study for when they had to retake their exams. On the other hand, students who studied hard felt like their hard work was wasted or had been devalued because of this.

When everyone finally filed out of the stairwells, the security guards still did not give further instruction. Everyone squeezed into the small lobby area in front of the theater. It was cramped, hot and loud. Though there were speakers in this area, they were still inaudible due to the large crowd. Amid the confusion and chaos, some students started to leave through emergency exits, which caused more alarms to go off. There seemed to be no plan and the security guards looked as if they did not agree on how to respond to the situation.

When the alarms quieted, they let the students go back to class. The lines for the elevators were much worse than they are during the usual rush hour. It took another 25 minutes to get back up to the 13th floor. In total, the entire drill wasted an hour and seemed to accomplish nothing. Based on this single event, if there were ever a real emergency, rather than staying calm, students and faculty members would be justified in worrying about their own safety.

The following week, there was a fire drill in the Newman Library. When the alarm sounded, it was not as loud as the alarms from the evacuation drill in the 23rd Street Building. Students in the library made eye contact and waited to see if anyone would do anything. Nobody descended from the upper floors and nobody from the standing computer kiosks seemed concerned. The guard just sat at the front desk and looked straight forward as if there were no alarm at all. Only after 10 minutes were students informed that the alarm was just a drill as officials announced it over the loudspeaker.

It was interesting that the mob mentality of the students in the library was to do nothing. The authoritative figure—the security guard—seemed unconcerned about the alarm, so students followed the same example. The guard did not acknowledge the alarm in any way. It would have helped for him to simply stand up and tell students to ignore the alarm. What if it had been an actual emergency? Based on this performance, it is difficult to determine how the guard would have reacted.

The lack of communication between administrators, faculty members, security guards and students needs to be addressed. In the event of an actual emergency, the lack of communication would cause avoidable harm. Additionally, there is no rehearsed evacuation drill, so if students had not been in those buildings at the time of the drills, then they might not know the proper exits.

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