Reflections on an Unplanned
Fire Drill in a Student Dormitory
One early morning in February 2006, around 6 am, a fire alarm broke out in the New Hall. Even though most of the residents were still sleeping, the majority of them responded promptly and evacuated to the outside of the building in an orderly manner. After several minutes, it was confirmed to be a false alarm. In effect, this became an "unplanned fire drill", and it triggered active discussion in a subsequent hall meeting. Safety and Environmental Protection Office requested Student Affairs Office colleagues to collect responses from the residents, which are good reality check for our student hall fire safety program, in particular the evacuation exercise.
A Year 2 ELEC student:
"RING......!" a loud and alarming sound suddenly broke the silent atmosphere of the New Hall. My roommate and I woke up unwillingly and tried to find out what was happening. When I opened the door, we saw many people move down the staircase. Some looked really tired and seemed that they didn't know what was really happening¡K; some were totally awake and kept waking other people up in the rooms. Fire drill!!! In the early morning!!! My roommate and I both thought that this fire drill was too harsh for us¡KTo my surprise, people calmly left the building in good order. Even it was later announced a false alarm. People went back to their rooms, still in good and quiet manner. This inspired me a lot. I think that people in HKUST really have a good temper and they behave themselves in every moment¡K
A Year 2 BBA(OM) student:
I was waken up by the loud noise and felt¡Kuncomfortable physically¡K I saw everyone try to get to the ground floor through stairs in good order¡K From this false fire alarm event, I found out that students were well organized when facing such situation. No one took the lift and no one hid in the room. The sense of safety was very clear and strong, so I think this was more real and more meaningful than a fire drill. But ...since it disturbed our normal life so much, I hope there won¡¦t be next time¡K
A Year 2 MGTO Student:
I think it's very necessary for hall residents to attend the fire drill. Firstly, it instills the sense of caution... If we always perceive our surroundings to be safe all the time, we will gradually lose the ability to respond to sudden accident¡KSecondly, the drill teaches us the basic skill of escaping from a fire¡KThis semester's fire drill at the New Hall was special. The alarm was on at 6 am, which was caused by some unexpected incident. However, most of the residents took the alarm seriously and went downstairs in order and no one used the elevator. It showed that the previous drills had an effective impact on residents. I strongly agree that we should have fire drills¡Kand I suggest that the simulation should be more real, so that when the real disaster comes, we know how to manage it.
A Year 2 MARK student:
It has been a hot topic¡Kto discuss which hall is going to practise fire evacuation at the beginning of the new semester. In order not to be "trapped" and "waste" an hour, hall residents, no matter from which halls, would like to escape from their halls and hide in other halls. It's such a funny thing when you see their behaviour. Everyone knows the importance of the drill. But, how many of us do really participate seriously?
I do think everyone has learnt a lesson in the case of this false fire alarm. At least, most of us have participated in it. I remembered that my roommate and I were having nice dream at that time when the alarm broke out¡KWe put our jackets on and started going out of the room and went downstairs. Everyone appeared to be grumbling. Of course, we still didn't know what had happened. After a while when the fire alarm stopped, all of us went back.
I hope everyone can take notice of the fire alarm at every moment, not just asking and guessing why it rings. It is more important to follow the guidelines to evacuate. Though I took more than one hour to get back to sleep, I thought it was a valuable experience that nothing can replace.
A student who wants to remain anonymous:
I think that drills which take place deep at night (or early in the morning depending on how you see it) are possibly one of the most anti-social things that the university administration can do...Having fire drills early in the morning really messed one's sleeping patterns up and you became so tired the next day. You could not concentrate in class and this would adversely affect your studies...I think it took me something like two days to get my sleeping back in order.
I simply don¡¦t see the point of having fire drills so regularly. We already had one last semester. We got the point and I think we know how to escape (we or at least I have seen enough government broadcasts saying that in case of a fire, don¡¦t use the lift, etc.). We are a university, not a kindergarten. We don't need to be TAUGHT how to escape.
...An alternative perhaps is to show some government broadcasts during a floor sharing session in order to raise inhabitants' awareness of fire escaping...
A Year 2 ISMT student:
Having a fire drill at dawn is not appropriate at all. It creates unnecessary disturbance to the residents. Students already feel tired after a full day lectures and all they want is just to go back to their rooms and take a good rest. Having a fire drill at dawn is surely an invasion to students' private resting time! Though having a fire drill is a must, having it at appropriate time is also a must. Lacking of sleep causes much harm. Physically, people will get sick easily, and mentally, people will be pissed off because they are being waken up. So, what's the point for doing it at dawn instead of other period of time?
A Year 1 BBA student:
¡KI think if the fire drill is held in the morning, that is a good choice. But the time needs not to be so early. I think 7:30 am will be a good choice since it can wake us up early¡Kand also, there are usually more people in the hall around this period of time¡KI do think fire drill is necessary for us since¡Kresidents ' safety is important.
As one can see, the students¡¦ opinions span a wide spectrum from wholehearted appreciation of the false fire alarm experience, all the way to questioning the need of fire drills at student halls. However, we would like to highlight several salient points about fire safety and fire drills:
We believe all residents agree that fire and life safety is basic and necessary knowledge no matter in what kind of dwellings, homes, dormitories, or hotels.
We may be mature enough to understand the principles of escaping from a fire, but we always need to learn the particulars of one¡¦s immediate environment, such as escape route, locations of fire extinguishers, fire alarm buttons, and so on. Information dissemination is useful, but ¡§learn by doing¡¨ is critical.
This is especially important when one is in a new environment. With the increasing number of non-local students and short term hall residents, it is vitally important to have regular fire drills so that every resident is familiar with the fire evacuation procedures and escape routes.