When the fire alarm sounds, jarring students, teachers and staff across campus, many people’s first reactions are to emit an exasperated groan.
Everyone knows the incessant screeching of the alarm is soon followed by students, teachers and support staff shuffling through bottleneck after bottleneck in order to make it to the football field, where many will aimlessly wander around until they happen to land on their correct place on the track.
Currently, the evacuation procedure takes a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes. When these are false alarms, they waste precious class time and interrupt tests. The greater consequence of this inefficient system is the danger it poses in the event of a real disaster.
Students spend the bulk of evacuation time stuck in a crowd of barely-moving people.
The student body evacuates to the same place, the football field and many pathways to the field are simply not large enough to accommodate swift movement of such a crowd.
These bottlenecks would be hazardous in the event of an actual fire or earthquake. It is likely that in such chaos, people would be jostled by the crowds. In addition, a large number of people would not be able to make it safely to the football field in a timely manner.
This issue could be avoided by simply creating more than one evacuation location. For example, the science, math and social studies classes could evacuate to the football field, and the English, art and language classes could gather on the lacrosse field.
A secondary location would also be another place for students to meet safely should the path to one of the fields be blocked or inaccessible.
In addition, the current attendance-taking procedure during drills does a poor job of accounting for students with preps, leaving many kids wandering in confusion and increasing the risk of a student being abandoned in the event of an actual disaster.
We suggest Paly administrators implement a check-in program similar to the tutorial system.
Each day, students with preps would have the option of entering their ID into a computer at one of several locations — the Math Resource Center (MRC), Social Studies Resource Center (SSRC), the Media Arts Center (MAC) atrium, the Student Center, the quad and, eventually, the library.
Signing into a location would give administrators a roster of the students who are on campus during their prep on a given day. Administrators could then use this list to account for students with preps in the event of a fire.
These sites would each have a designated evacuation location on a field — the MRC, SSRC and Student Center students would meet on the football field, and the MAC and library students would meet at the lacrosse field.
If a student did not check in to a location during their prep period, that individual would not be included in roll-taking during an evacuation, as the school would assume that person is off campus.
Reaching out to members of the administration about the current policies and procedures regarding evacuations demonstrated the breakdown in the lines of communication between administrators on this important issue. All three administrators referred us to one of the other three; Principal Adam Paulson and Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson recommended we speak with Assistant Principal John Christiansen, who then sent us to back Paulson.
Even administrators seem unclear about who is responsible for addressing the problems with evacuations, reflecting the disorganized nature of the process which could put people in even more danger.