Why you keep hearing those fire alarms

Lately, it’s been common to be given a wake-up call in the middle of class by the ear-splitting shriek of the fire alarm. We flinch as a result of the sudden sound, but nobody moves to evacuate. And in five minutes, the expected message comes over the intercom telling us that it was simply a drill and evacuating is not necessary.

Every five years, Walnut High School is obligated to change all the batteries in its fire alarms. This increases the likelihood that an alarm will suddenly ring. After speaking to our Operations Manager, Jacqueline Rojas, about the faulty alarms, I learned that the teachers were informed about the possibility of a false alarm, and therefore, were told not to act. So although the official protocol of schools in California in responding to fire alarms is immediate evacuation, Walnut High School established a different system to respond to the alarms. The administration sends someone to check the room that set off the fire alarm, and the person verifies if there is a fire or not. This is done in the belief that disrupting class for any technological faults would be detrimental to the student learning experience.

However, the habit of hearing an alarm and not reacting may obstruct a student’s ability to act with proper haste in the face of a real emergency. After hearing an alarm go off four days in a week, the natural reaction of anyone would be to brush it off as another drill. The overexposure to the alarm defeats its purpose; it is not shocking to hear and therefore does not provoke an adequate response.

Despite the dangers of ignoring fire alarms, the students are in fact very safe. I was told by Rojas that a benefit of our campus is the separation of the buildings. The space between the buildings and the low possibility of a fire spreading to a different building is one of the reasons that the administration chooses to check the fire before making the decision to evacuate. This means that even if there was a fire, the students would have ample time to evacuate just from the time required for a fire to spread.

This belief also stems from the fact that in the past, the alarms have been shown to react to several situations that are not linked to fires. For example, if hot dust from the air conditioning system is blown into the alarm, it may start ringing. If a room heats up during the summer, the alarm system goes off. This history of false alarms and lack of actual fires has caused a general belief that alarms always denote drills.

The administration is justified in attempting to keep order inside the classrooms. Especially these past few days, while the alarms’ batteries are being changed, if we had to evacuate for every alarm, we’d easily waste over 10 minutes standing outside during valuable class time. Also, it doesn’t make sense to evacuate students who were in, let’s say the band building, if the alarm had been prompted by someone burning their popcorn in the C building.

Instead of keeping the student body in the dark about why the fire alarms randomly start ringing, the administration should disclose the reasoning behind the false alarms. If I had known that they were exchanging the fire alarms batteries or that they were testing the alarms, I wouldn’t have been so confused as to why the alarms rang so many times. The nonchalant way the teachers reacted to the alarms wouldn’t have surprised me, and I could’ve better ignored the thought that maybe just this time, it wasn’t a drill.

By Nicole Chiang, News editor
Editorial cartoon by Natalie Jiang