After a fire broke out in West Quad last week, causing a full evacuation of the building, residents reported a general sense of confusion as they were displaced for several hours in the wee hours of Thursday morning.
In looking at the University’s emergency response, Peter Logan, a spokesman for University Housing, said the evacuation ran relatively smoothly. But, he said, the residence staff is working to see how the handling of a similar situation could be improved in the future.
“We’re in the process of asking ourselves what could we do differently to make things a little more fluid or expedient for the students,” he said. “But in reflection on this event, we did pretty well, I think, in terms of handling the emergency.
“The most important thing is to get the students out of the building when there is the threat of harm,” he continued. “And we were happy that the suppression system worked and there were no injuries.”
However, he added: “There was a lot of inconvenience, we acknowledge that.”
Logan said the residence staff in West Quad has already discussed the issue of whether they should have anticipated or handled the situation better. He added that some of the University Housing directors will engage in further discussion in the next few days.
After the evacuation at about 1:30 a.m. last Thursday morning, students were evacuated to the South Quad cafeteria and the South Quad Community Learning Center on the ninth floor. Once there, resident advisers and other West Quad residence staff alerted residents of the situation, Logan said.
Business sophomore Morgan Williams, a West Quad resident, said she did not hear any information directly from housing staff, which she said made the situation more confusing.
“I didn’t realize it was going to be three or four hours,” she said.
LSA sophomore Kara Kime, another West Quad resident, said she did not think the residents were debriefed well enough right after they were told to evacuate.
“I think it could have been a lot better in the beginning, because a lot of people didn’t believe there was really anything going on,” she said. “We heard everything through the grapevine kind of in the beginning, but then the RAs came and notified us.”
Logan said there is some difficulty with communication during any emergency because of the necessity to take care of the situation at hand before notifying affected individuals of the situation. He also said it was difficult to contact all of the residents involved because many chose to leave the evacuation sites.
“There is the issue that we don’t always know what’s going on in a timely basis,” he said, “because in an emergency the first thing to do is deal with the emergency, so I do know that there were students who were unhappy.”
The students were allowed back into their rooms sometime between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., depending on where they lived within West Quad, Logan said.
Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown said multiple steps had to be taken before students were allowed back into the building even after the fire was put out. And because the fire was an arson, West Quad was determined as a crime scene where police interviews and fingerprinting had to be taken.
In addition to the crime scene investigation, the waiting time was augmented by the need for an air quality test before residents were permitted to re-enter the building. Brown said the University takes the fire marshal’s OK a step further, waiting extra time to ensure the safety of the building.
“The University administration has a set of stronger responsibilities for students, staff and faculty,” Brown said. “The administration wants to go that one step further to ensure that buildings really have good air quality, etc. in order to be reoccupied.”
The sprinkler system also contributed to the wait delays, Brown said. Though the fire was on the lowest level of West Quad, which she said made it easier to contain, there was still water damage to about 20 rooms that had to be mitigated.
“You can’t stop the sprinkler system,” Brown said. “That whole portion of the piping system has to drain out, so even if the fire is put out very quickly, a lot of water still comes down.”
Logan said he has not heard of a lot of criticism from the students who were displaced once they re-entered the residence hall.
“It was something nobody wanted to have happen, and it is disturbing that this was an arson,” he said. “But after the event, it seems that we’re not getting a lot of criticism from the students.”