New 'smart' alarms at Towers cause problems for students

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The start of a new school year often means a rash of fire alarms in the residence halls at Southeast Missouri State University. Ten alarms have sounded so far this semester in Towers East, where students are trying to get used to a new "smarter" fire alarm system.

From mid-August through Friday, alarms in Towers Complex and group housing totaled 24.

Each alarm at one of the four Towers means that between 250 and 375 students must evacuate either to group housing across from Towers Circle or to the nearby band practice field. On some occasions, students were allowed to wait in the lobby or on the curbs while officials cleared the buildings, but an actual fire could blow out windows and shower the curbs with broken glass.

Students lose up to 30 minutes of doing homework each time. Some wait in towels and bathrobes because the alarms interupt them during sleep or showers.

Over the summer, the university installed a smarter alarm system in Towers East that meets current codes, facilities manager Scott Meyer said. The system is self-testing and self-diagnostic, meaning each receptor tests itself, detects problems and relays reports to technicians.

New Hall and Towers East are the only two residence halls with the smarter systems, which put more receptors throughout the buildings.

Towers East houses mostly freshman and transfer students, who are adjusting to a new fire alarm system and a new environment, Meyer said. Towers South houses mainly freshmen and sophomores, while Towers North and West are mostly populated by upperclassmen.

No one knew what might set off the new system, said Kassy Bies, Towers East hall director.

"We didn't know at the beginning of the year how the fire alarms would react to hairspray and stuff like that," she said.

Investigations into the false alarms determined that the main causes were burnt popcorn and bacon in microwave ovens, hair spray and electrical hairstyling appliances left plugged in near the receptors, Meyer said. Eleven of the 24 fire alarms have unknown causes.

The findings were relayed to the hall directors.

"We've put hallwide fliers on every door, and since then it has severly lessened the number of fire alarms," said sophomore community adviser James Schepel.

About two incidents have occurred since the fliers were distributed, Bies said.

"People realize what they can and can't do," said freshman Kathy Mayfield. She and her roommate are careful to unplug their hair straighteners before they leave the room and sometimes use hairspray in the hallways.

Students watch their habits because they do not want to be inconvenienced or embarrassed anymore, Mayfield said.

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