Arena alarm drill raises questions about response

firedrill

New fire safety measures are being taken to help reduce confusion and slow evacuation responses to Campus Center Arena fire drills after an alarm sounded during the Plattsburgh game Friday Jan. 29.

After a fire alarm went off at the end of the first period, few in the sellout crowd were aware of the situation. Within the arena, evacuation was slow, and some claim to have not have even have heard the alarm go off.

"I was in the movie theater watching a movie, and I didn’t even hear the alarm," said Danyelle Osorio, a freshman zoology major.

Among the crowd, Amber Lennon was sitting in the top row when the alarm went off. There was confusion, and some thought the alarm was part of the game.

"We heard a faint voice that said, ‘Please evacuate.’ I saw flashing lights, but I just thought the lights were flashing because one of the teams scored. We were really surprised when an usher told us to get up and leave," said Lennon, a senior psychology major.

As noise from the game made hearing the alarms even more inaudible, the evacuation procedures became increasingly difficult.

Naeshia Mota, a senior broadcasting major, was working the concession stand at the time of the alarm. "We heard the alarm, and left immediately, but other people there didn’t want to leave," Mota said.

When people were told they had to go outside into the cold, some went back to get their coats, further slowing the evacuation process. To add to the confusion, as people streamed out of the arena, ticket takers also tried to stamp people’s hands to account for them.

The fire alarm is an intricate system, said Oswego City Fire Marshal Tim Ganey.

"It’s comprised of smoke detectors, heat detectors, beam detectors (which detects particles from a fire), and horn strobe lights," Ganey said.

"The main components are three sound drills that are located in the arena, 15 speakers that are mounted on the ceiling, and every 30 feet on the walls is a horn strobe."

The strobe lights were the source of the bright, flashing lights that many people saw. When the fire alarm is activated, the horns project an audio announcement in a computerized voice asking people to exit the building.

Currently, the sound level of the alarms and the organization of future evacuations are being addressed.

"In the next few weeks, a series of meeting between the various organizations: University Police, athletics, and those in charge of facilities in and around the stadium, will be taking place to develop better evacuation methods," Cora Brumley, assistant athletic director said.

Some steps have already been implemented. For every event at the arena, an audio announcement and visual will be given, notifying everyone where the fire safety exits are located.

"From now on, there will be a ‘Checklist’ or pre-planning for every event in the arena," Ganey said.

"We plan to have fire safety trainings for ushers prior to every major event, install more signs, issue certain people radios for communication, and have ushers or personnel wear different colored shirts to make them more identifiable."

Also, instead of having people go outside the building, they plan to direct people to alternate locations in the Campus Center, such as the Swetman Gym. All exits outside, however, will be cleared of snow just in case the incident occurs again.

Engineer evaluations of the horn strobe lights’ sound levels will be taking place within the following weeks.

"Changes are being made to increase the sound level of the alarm, so everyone in the stadium can hear it regardless of location." said Director of Sports Information Adele Burk,.

Cora added that the drill highlighted major flaws in fire safety planning that need improvement, and may have not been revealed if alarms did not sound during the game.

"This is a great learning opportunity. Improvements can and will be made," Cora added.

Students also agree that steps should be taken to ensure everyone’s safety. Shavone Williams, a senior broadcasting major, attended the game and sat at the top row.

"Maybe players should also be taught to take precautions, but more importantly, there should be better communication next time about how people should proceed."