Alarms need more communication, respect in order to be effective
A fire started in the Kleinpell Fine Arts building on Tuesday, which ultimately prompted an evacuation. Students, annoyed at what they thought was a drill, reluctantly filed out into the snow, many of them without jackets because they thought they would be let back in the building after five minutes. Even after it became clear that the alarm wasn’t a drill, students didn’t take the danger seriously and were occasionally darting back into the building to grab items.
Alarms have become so commonplace in schools that students have begun to not take them seriously. The original purpose of drills, of course, is to ensure that everyone knows what to do. However, this seems to have backfired.
The Student Voice believes that a new system is needed to ensure that people respond appropriately to actual alarms. This means striking a fine balance; people need to know where to go and what to do, but they also need to take the alarm seriously.
In the midst of a situation, students should be fully aware of whether or not they are in a drill. We suggest that fire, tornado, lockdown, etc. drills be accompanied by a verbal statement that “this is a drill.” Everyone should still be required to evacuate so that they know where to go. However, in an actual emergency, they will realize that it’s not a drill and react with more urgency.
Another thing that needs to change is communication. The university offers the option to sign up for a text alert system for emergencies. However, hours after the fire, students still hadn’t received anything that told them what had happened or whether the building was safe. The end result was a lot of confusion; some students were wandering back into the building, and no one was certain if their classes would resume. Later, there were several different versions of what happened floating around campus.
A similar situation played out last semester after the “active shooter” incident. What actually happened was that a firearm was accidentally discharged during a domestic dispute. The university sent emails, texts and voicemails to everyone who was signed up for the emergency alert service, but the information was vague and mislead students into believing that an armed gunman was roaming campus. Rumors spread like wildfire, and people across campus went into lockdown.
There needs to be a middle ground between over and under-reaction to an emergency situation. The best way to do this would be for the university to be more open with students when a situation is playing out.
We understand that the university needs to move carefully and ensure that information is correct. However, students need to be made aware of the full context of what is happening on campus. The university should always release a full explanation of what happened to all students, and they should do so as soon as they are confident of their information. This could be facilitated by directly sending students statements or links from the police or fire departments that explain the situation. This can help avoid confusion and ensure that the university’s statements are in line with those of local law enforcement.
Alarms are supposed to help people. If people don’t know how to react to them, however, alarms lose their importance and fail to be useful.