Students rattled by false alarms

Students rattled by false alarms

By Danielle Capalbo

With two cases of arson occurring on campus last month, some students say fire alarms – particularly the drills that are conducted in residence halls once each academic quarter – can have the unintended consequence of dulling student response to actual alarms.

“Toward the end of the year, if there was a week where we had already had like three fire alarms, we wouldn’t even really leave our rooms,” said Stephanie Turmelle, a sophomore English major. “Even a real fire alarm in the middle of the night wouldn’t have alarmed me, really.”

Mercy Abena Osei Ameyaw, a third-year political science major, echoed a similar sentiment.

“After two or three preparatory fire drills, the student loses the haste and promptness to respond as they should in case of an actual fire emergency,” she said.

Associate Director of Public Safety Jim Ferrier said he has a different understanding of the phrase “false alarm.”

“It doesn’t mean much to me,” he said. “There are fire alarms that are unwanted, but are an indication that the alarm system worked as it’s supposed to.”

Ferrier said incidents involving malicious and intentional alarms are “quite rare.”

“They tend to happen late at night,” he said, “and there tends to be some indication that there was probably some intoxication or horsing around in the hallways.”

Students responsible for intentionally causing a false alarm will be subjected to criminal prosecution and face a minimum of automatic suspension from the university, according to the Public Safety Division Web site.

The most common cause for alarms on campus, Ferrier said, is cooking accidents.

“Students will be cooking in their apartment and make smoke from their cooking mistakes, and that smoke sets off the detector in their room,” he said.

While cooking offenses are not considered a punishable offense, Ferrier said one mistake will often lead to another. Instead of opening windows to let out the smoke, students tend to open a door, “letting the smoke into the hallway where it violates other alarms,” he said.

But Ferrier contested the idea that student response to fire alarms has been negatively affected by practice alarms.

“There’s no evidence that’s the case here at Northeastern – our residence hall staff does a very fine job,” Ferrier said. “It’s our experience that there’s a pretty orderly and prompt evacuation.”

But Abena Osei Ameyaw, who acknowledged the necessity of fire alarms, said the practice drills should be executed so as to distinguish them from actual alarms.

“Students should be pre-warned so they don’t react with unnecessary panic,” she said.

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