Errant Fire Alarms: The Buildings Who Cried Wolf

Megan Jackson

As a new (and duly grateful) sophomore resident of the ritzy Commons complex, I arrived in August with a car full of stuff and a heart full of hope. The University had spent my freshman year compensating for the constant symphony of construction with grandiose promises of what the new Commons would offer. Gym! Mail! Dining! Oh, my! It all seemed too good to be true.

For the most part, the Commons have met and exceeded those expectations from move-in day and beyond. The gym is lovely, and the mailroom is deluxe. When my kidney goes to auction on the black market, I’ve been assured that the dining experience I’ll purchase in the Refectory could justify the cost. By and large, the Commons provide a lovely experience for those in the building. Of course, that requires us to be in the building.

Unfortunately for those of us in Cupola and Friar Halls, a mounting number of fire-alarm ejections over the past several weeks have somewhat reduced that quality time. In the week following October break, the tally reached four consecutive days of fire drills. Luckily for us, they took place in the off-hours we were most likely to be home: the first on the Sunday back from break, followed by two in the evening and one at eight a.m. We were treated again this last weekend to a 1 a.m. rousing after a long day of Special Olympics excitement. 

Don’t get me wrong: these fire drills promote community bonding. SSLC has never felt closer kinship than those pajama-clad, unannounced group meetings held on our building’s front lawn. From every recorded verbalization on the subject, however, all involved would prefer to do our bonding elsewhere, preferably on our own terms and in slightly more suitable clothing.

The present circumstances are less than ideal for student habitation. Worse, they pose a threat to the credibility of the buildings’ emergency systems, greatly increasing the possible danger in the event of a real fire. 

After the second fire drill, declarations that “next time, I’m not leaving” grew in frequency. During the third drill, residents of Cupola Hall were treated to cheeky waves from residents in upper-floor apartment windows who refused to evacuate. When that, too, turned out to be a drill, the number of resolute objectors grew during the fourth and fifth drills. Objections to this practice seem ludicrous, because those who dutifully troop outside — even in the middle of the night in pajamas, depriving themselves of precious minutes of SpO sleep — are rewarded only with a chilly wait and the inevitable announcement that it was a false alarm. After five unnecessary evacuations in two weeks, claims that “this time, the fire could be real” are duly met with derision. 

The residents affected by these frequent alarms received an email after the fourth claiming that “alarms should begin to lessen,” but it will be difficult for Residence Life to regain its credibility in the near future. Indeed, that email was followed with the least timely alarm yet less than a week later.

 As we saw at the beginning of the year, emergency drills have an essential place in student life. A fire or a suspected shooter are no laughing matters. I suspect if we began to see shooter drills five times in two-week periods, however, the number of tearful phone calls and door barricades would dramatically decline. Consistently false fire drills dramatically reduce the likelihood that safety measures will be taken, putting the students of these halls in a vulnerable position if a real situation arose. It is especially frustrating to evacuate so often on behalf of a restaurant that seems deliberately priced to exclude student patrons on their own campus. These issues should have been resolved long before they began impacting the safety and living situations of students, which should always be the first priority for Villanova administration.