Ambiguous alarms leave students wary

By Regan Reeck

Reporting contributed by Anna Toth

On the afternoon of Friday, Jan. 26, Rachel Nin wrestled with a worksheet on differential equations in class. About 20 minutes later, alarms began to blare. With flashing lights and an accompanying  pre-recorded voice repeating, “an emergency has been reported. Please evacuate,” the alarm sent Nin’s class into a confused panic.

A sophomore studying math and economics at Cleveland State University, Nin assumed the worst.

“They didn’t say this is a drill like we normally hear, and our professor said you might want to take your personal belongings,” Nin said. “We all kind of freaked out. We all assumed it was a shooter.”

Signaling the detection of smoke and fire, the alarm did not specify what the exact danger was, according to Nin. Frightened for her life due to the recent number of shooting across the nation, her fear was not unreasonable.

Since Feb. 1, there have been 14 school shootings across the United States according to a report by non-profit, Everytown for Gun Safety.

Later that day, Nin eventually heard through Snapchat that the alarm was signaled by a fire, though she still recalls the fear she felt in that moment.

“It was terrifying. Every time we turned a corner, we were looking behind us and just making sure there was nothing near us — no immediate danger,” Nin said. “It was super quiet when we were evacuating, which was surprising.”

There were two evacuations on Jan. 26. One around 2 p.m. and the other around 7:30 p.m.

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According to the Chief of Police at Cleveland State, Gary Lewis, the incident on Jan. 26, was caused by an unknown source in an outside dumpster, and it was the Student Center that was evacuated. Lewis had no information concerning the second evacuation.

Student accounts of the evacuation differ from that of the official Cleveland State Police Department’s.

 Olivia Adams, a freshman of biology and a pre-med freshman tells a strikingly similar story to Nin.

“The fire alarm went off, and it was really loud,” Adams said. “Everybody just sat there for a few minutes, and it was really unorganized and no one really knew where to go.”

Both Nin and Adams spent around 10 minutes outside, unsure if it was safe to return to class. Eventually, they both followed the crowd of students back into the building without any official statement indicating whether or not it was deemed safe.

“No one was there to tell us ‘Oh, you can go back in now.’ I kind of just followed everyone else back into the building,” Adams said. “When I got up to the fourth floor everything smelled like smoke and burned paper.”

Both Nin and Adams explained that they don’t feel unsafe on campus, they feel uninformed.

“I found out on Snapchat, and I just assumed it was right because it was all I had heard,” Nin said. “There was no official statement or email. It was just complete silence.”

When asked why there was no official message from Cleveland State regarding the evacuations on Jan. 26, Lewis explained that it was not protocol to send an email or text explaining the situation.

“There is no expectation that a large mass that are not immediately impacted would be notified,” Lewis said. “We do often times offer some clarity if students, faculty or staff have questions related to it.”

Lewis went on to explain that this protocol of not sending an alert was based on a number of factors — including students reporting in the past that they receive too many emails and alerts. The Cleveland State Police Department currently follows federal guidelines under the federal statute of the Clery Act when alerting students of an emergency on campus.

The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act is a federal statute that requires colleges and universities to report crimes that occur on campus in addition to school safety policies.

According to the Cleveland State University Annual Security and Fire Safety Report (ASR), published on Oct.1, 2017, “Emergency Notifications will be issued when it has been determined that there is a ‘significant emergency’ or a dangerous situation poses an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees occurring on campus.” This report is available on Cleveland State’s Police Department website.

Neither the safety report or Lewis defines what constitutes a ‘significant emergency,’ but Lewis does state that a fire alarm does not fall under the Clery Act.  However, an active shooter does.

In the event of an active shooter on campus, Cleveland State will send an alert through R.A.V.E., the same system that informs students and staff of school closures or delays.

Typically, Cleveland State students receive ‘Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate’  training (A.L.I.C.E) in their freshman year of college. The training is meant to inform students and staff on what to do to increase their chance of survival in the event of an active shooter on campus.

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But this training is not given to transfer or graduate students.

Jenna Sakacsi, a junior journalism and promotional communication major, recently transferred to Cleveland State and stated that she did not know that there were any resources or training available.

“It would make me feel a little bit better knowing,” Sakacsi said. “I feel as a student it’s something that I should be aware of, just so that I know. They don’t have to send out a high-alert emergency or anything, but maybe sending out an email to let us know what happened on campus.”

Sakacsi’s sentiments mirror that of Nin’s and Adams’s. While she usually feels safe on Cleveland State’s campus, the lack of information  and communication concerning potentially dangerous situations is what makes her anxious.

“I feel like being a transfer student, I know basically nothing. There was no check list before I started,” Sakacsi’s said. “I wish when I first came here that during my first appointment, the university would have given me [a packet with information on campus resources.]”

When asked why graduate and transfer students don’t receive any formal A.L.I.C.E training, Lewis offered in an email, a concise explanation.

“Typically, graduate students have experienced some type of educational knowledge of the active aggressor protocols — this approach also mirrors that of transfer students e.g. Tri-C, Lakeland Community Colleges, etc.”  

In the event of a fire alarm or other evacuation, the attitude held by Cleveland State’s police department is similar, holding that students are already sufficiently prepared to handle an emergency situation.

“It’s no different from the days of secondary education in our school,” Lewis said. “If there is a fire alarm, students are encouraged to evacuate based on that alarm.”

However, Adams, Nin and Sakacsi  all echo one another with the ambiguity of the alarms making them unsure of what to expect when one goes off.

“I think that it makes it very hard to react appropriately, if you don’t really know what is going on,” Adams said. “I think that the clearer that they are, the better it will be in an emergency situation.”

Reflecting on her own experience with drills, safety protocols and training, Adams believes there is nothing ensuring that everyone on campus is aware of what to do in the case of an emergency.

“I know the training I got, but that doesn’t mean everyone else has the same training,” Adams said. “We have students from different countries and backgrounds here, and they might not have the same type of training, so I think it would be nice to refresh that.”

Despite this gap in perceptions between the police department and some students, Lewis explained that the Cleveland State police department strives to ensure an open line of communication with students and staff to create a feeling of transparency and safety on campus.

“We want to make sure our students know what is happening,” Lewis said. “If an alarm goes off and it requires our students, staff and faculty to evacuate that facility and they’re then cleared to return, it would only be natural that they would have some questions. We want to be able to share that information with them.”

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