Editorial: Fire drill searches could spark negative effects

Throughout this past week, scheduled fire drills resulted in random room and apartment searches by Public Safety officers. The University informs residents of its right to conduct random room searches to enforce policy, but what occurs during the search concerns residents after this week’s activity.

Many West campus residents watched from behind the safety zone as Public Safety officers removed personal furniture from several apartments during the week’s fire drills. The officers’ justification of the removal of the furniture – long tables – was that they were considered alcohol paraphernalia. Students returned to their apartments after the fire drill expecting to find all of their belongings, but some were greeted with an unpleasant surprise: increased living space due to the absence of confiscated items.

We understand the University’s right to enforce the alcohol policy they have clearly established on campus, but we find fault in removing personal items without notifying the owners.

While it is very possible that these tables were used for alcohol-related activities, there is no way to determine whether or not these tables have other purposes, such as places for an eating or studying, by simply taking a quick peek in the room. Because a fire drill was underway, the tables were not being used at that moment for alcohol-related purposes. We assume Public Safety would not remove refrigerators because at some point alcohol could have been stored in them.

This confiscation of property in the owner’s absence has prompted much discussion among the West campus residents who are concerned with the safety of their personal possessions. Many are suggesting that the next time they hear the fire alarms blaring, they will rummage about their apartment before exiting to hide their belongings. Others are going so far as saying that they will not leave their apartment during a fire alarm to ensure that nothing will be taken from their rooms. Both of these practices will thwart Public Safety’s efforts to enforce their policies.

In the event of a real fire, though, this practice could be potentially fatal, as residents may not recognize the building is burning down until it is already too late to escape. By removing personal property from rooms, Public Safety is effectively encouraging students not to leave their rooms at the sound of a fire alarm, a decision that proved fatal in a Seton Hall University residence hall in the fall of 1999.

Rather than have the situation escalate to such drastic and potentially fatal levels, the University should consider taking other actions. While it is necessary as noted in the Blue Book to remove alcohol paraphernalia, such as funnels, during apartment searches, when it comes to removing furniture, residents should be consulted. If a “suspicious’ table is discovered, residents should be notified and the matter discussed, even if it means returning to the room to confront students after the fire alarm has been deactivated. Taking these actions would avoid compromising student safety in the event of a real fire and would also enforce compliance with University policy.