Opinion: Housing & Residence Life turns a blind eye to false fire alarms
HRL’s lack of transparency and communication leaves many freshmen sleepless
This article is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.
As a Team Lead in the Mary Graydon Center, I’ve noticed our busier times throughout the day. Things usually pick up just after 11 a.m. as classes end, and after 4 p.m. things quiet down for a while. Some days, though, I see an unexpected surge of students entering the building. When this happens, I ask one of the students where they are coming from. Nine times out of ten, this herd of freshmen comes from the Letts-Anderson Quad for, you guessed it, a false fire alarm.
While I am a sophomore residing elsewhere on campus, I have many friends who live in Anderson, Letts or Centennial Hall and constantly complain about early morning fire alarms that disrupt their sleep. According to data from University spokesperson Elizabeth Deal, almost 60 fire alarms have occurred on campus properties since August 2021, and 31 of them — more than half — have been at the LA Quad and Roper Hall.
This staggering statistic poses several concerns. College students should be getting between seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Fire alarms completely disrupt these hours. For one, students have no choice but to evacuate their residence halls when a fire alarm sounds. AUPD then needs to respond, evaluate the situation and wait for the on-call facilities team member to arrive to help clear the alarm condition. From experience, it usually takes about 30 minutes to receive an “all clear” to re-enter the building. Then you have to manage to fall back asleep. Suddenly, you just lost two hours of sleep and you have an 8 a.m. class in the morning.
Second, with the high number of false alarms that the LA Quad experiences every week, more students are simply not bothering to leave their rooms anymore. This creates a dangerous “boy who cried wolf” scenario. If there were to be an actual fire, students would be so desensitized to the sound of the fire alarm that they would not leave their room and risk serious injury.
Third, there are nine other residence halls on campus and none of them come remotely close to this level of disruptiveness. By law, AUPD is required to publish and maintain a daily fire log of the legitimate alarms throughout its buildings. The 2022 log only shows three actual alarms for the entire campus and only one of those originated from the LA Quad. While some alarms are caused by malicious intentions (such as students intentionally pulling the alarm), that level is not nearly enough to warrant nearly three dozen false alarms. This would suggest that there is something wrong with the LA Quad’s fire alarm system itself, and there is.
When an alarm activates in Anderson, Letts or Centennial Hall, all three are evacuated because they are all physically joined. However, on East Campus, where Federal and Duber Halls are joined by the Don Myers building, each building’s alarm system is independent of the other. Therefore, even if an alarm still triggers, there’s no reason that all three halls should be immediately evacuated. In fact, there is a practice known as “delayed evacuation,” which gives trained staff time to investigate an alarm and, in the case of a false alarm, prevent the need for a full building evacuation. Why can’t that be implemented at AU?
My biggest concern is that Housing & Residence Life has remained silent on this matter. If they email students affected by a false alarm, they remain very vague regarding the situation. HRL’s student staff petitioned for better working conditions at the same time that HRL prevented them from speaking to media outlets, showing a clear disconnect between professional and student staff. It also suggests that HRL has so many problems within their department that they don’t want student staff exposing the true dysfunctional environment.
When I emailed HRL in early January to express my discontent over their failure to communicate planned alarm maintenance in my hall, I received no response. When I checked on the case’s status three weeks later, I was greeted with a message stating that the case had been deleted and that I no longer had access to it. Surely, a valid concern doesn’t exist if they delete my case, right?
Now, as I write this op-ed, even the University acknowledged in an email to me that this is an issue.
“The continued occurrence of non-emergency situation alarms is unacceptable to us,” Deal wrote, adding, “We are working with key university partners including facilities management, campus life, risk management, and public safety, and have made this issue a top priority and launched a comprehensive review... A reward for information about false alarms is under consideration as part of our overall assessment.”
Still, HRL’s repeated behavior of poor communication combined with their lack of transparency is entirely unacceptable. HRL needs to step up and put in legitimate effort to prevent further false alarms and repair the LA Quad’s fire alarm system. For all of the room and board fees that students pay every semester, everyone deserves an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
Dan Sirota is a sophomore in the School of Communication.