The frequency of fire alarms has been inordinately high in the past year and has accelerated sharply since the start of the 2013 academic calendar. The phrase campus-wide “fire alarm Friday” was coined after multiple consecutive Fridays included a fire alarm. While it may seem like a minor inconvenience, the high frequency of alarms is a significant burden for students, teachers and fire officials alike, and requires attention and action.
When fire alarms sound, every student in the school—around 2000 in total—begin the exodus from classrooms to the football field. As with any large group, they move slowly and reluctantly. The minimum turnaround between a false alarm and return to class seems to be around 15 minutes. This is time that students need to learn. Arbitrarily removing 15 minutes from a given class puts students behind other class periods in the material, and no time is ever allotted to make up the difference. Teachers have no choice but to watch helplessly as valuable class time trickles away for whatever the latest error was. Real trouble can be encountered if a test is in progress when the alarm sounds. Students have to leave the room, thus invalidating their test results. The alarm provides an unfair advantage or disadvantage to certain periods no matter how teachers handle the situation. Sometimes, entire tests have to be retaken, rewritten and readministered.
Perhaps more important is the adverse effects of so many alarms. Students are conditioned to know that there is no real problem. They often take time to pack up and bring their possessions to the football field. In a classic case of the boy who cried wolf, students no longer react to fire alarms as indicative of a real fire or threat. In the case of a real fire, speed and efficiency are paramount. The safety of students is thus compromised by incessant fire alarms.
Lastly, it is unacceptable to draw upon the city’s public fire resources so frequently and causelessly. Each time a fire alarm sounds, fire trucks and crews respond by coming to the site, prepared to put out a fire. The frequency of false alarms thus uses up the valuable time of Palo Alto firemen.
This of course begs the question: what causes Gunn’s fire alarm epidemic? The answer is multifaceted: it partially stems from construction, partially from freak accidents and partially from human error. However, it seems that carelessness and lack of preparation are what allows the problem to continue. For example, a projectile hits a fire alarm—for example volleyballs and basketballs that caused two recent alarms to sound—and the school must perform the functions as though it were pulled. The solution is simple—a cage has to be built around alarms in the gym, but for some reason such structures have yet to be built after causing multiple alarms. Other times, poor communication between construction companies and the district caused certain alarms to sound when they should have been deactivated. While some measures have been taken to deactivate alarms in construction areas, the recent fire alarm on Oct. 9 due to human error on the part of a construction employee proves that there is still ample room for improvement.
It is unfair and unreasonable to expect teachers and students to bear the consequences of such mishaps. If construction companies are truly at fault, Gunn should work to somehow pressure companies into taking more care not to set off alarms. The administrative officials should learn from their mistakes and address the issue as a serious problem rather than a minor annoyance.
—Atlas, a senior, is a