University Police officers posted public safety advisories in Mitchell Hall this week after residents experienced six false fire alarms in one week, often in the middle of the night.
UPD Captain Frank Demes said that at least five of the false alarms in Mitchell were malicious. Officials also held a mandatory meeting for Mitchell Hall residents Thursday night to inform students of the situation and discuss the effects of the false fire alarms.
Demes said officials worry the frequent alarms will cause a “boy-cries-wolf” scenario where students are less likely to evacuate during future alarms because they assume they’re false. The captain added that knowingly and deliberately causing a fire alarm is a violation of D.C. law. Penalties include a fine, jail time and a Student Judicial Services punishment.
“The University’s primary concern during a fire alarm is the safety of students,” Demes wrote in an e-mail. “For that reason, students need to understand that it is their responsibility to evacuate when there is a fire alarm.”
Demes said students caught ignoring fire alarms will be disciplined for violating the Student Code of Conduct. He said UPD is working to resolve the issue with the help of student vigilance in reporting suspicious activity.
Ed Comeau, publisher of a fire-safety newsletter called Campus Firewatch, said the intentional false alarms are highly concerning for any residential building. He said officials should hold meetings with students to impart the importance of fire alarms.
“Education and communication among students (will) reinforce the importance of evacuation,” he said.
Comeau said the University could do much more to prevent the problem. He said some schools will fine an entire floor to force a student to come forward with information. He said GW could also equip all of the alarms with stoppers – a device which beeps loudly while the alarm is being pulled so it is more likely someone will witness misuse.
“A number of schools across the country use (stoppers), and they have a total reduction in false alarms,” Comeau said.
In addition to taking every alarm seriously and always evacuating the building, Comeau also advises to “always know two ways out, no matter where you are … because that can save you’re life.” In situations where students are faced with a smoke-filled corridor, he recommends turning back into the room, closing the door, sealing off the bottom and calling the fire or police department to alert them of your whereabouts and danger.
Despite University efforts, Mitchell Hall residents said they are still perturbed by the alarms. Sophomore Samantha Austin, who lives one of Mitchell’s about 100 singles, said the timing of the alarms is what really bothers her.
“I wake up tired the next morning because I don’t get a full night’s sleep and it’s awful,” Austin said.
She said while she understands the University’s policy on mandatory evacuations, she is considering staying inside the next time an alarm goes off. She added that GW should be doing more to prevent the mischief.
“It’s a stupid thing not to go out but I’m tired of standing outside at 3 o’clock in the morning,” Austin said.
Sophomore Mark Dauigoy said there is a real danger that students in Mitchell Hall will not evacuate if there is a real fire because of the boy-who-cries-wolf effect of the false alarms.
Dauigoy described the general feeling of Mitchell Hall’s residents as “pissed off.” He said the person who thinks they are playing a joke on residents should consider the effect it is having on other students.
“This is a dangerous thing you’re playing with,” Dauigoy said. “It may be a prank, but you’re messing with the safety of everyone around here.”