Recent Fire Alarm Highlights Evacuation Questions

On Tuesday, September 27, the school was taken by surprise when the fire alarm suddenly went off during lunch. What made it more concerning was that it was not a drill because the alarm went off due to smoke in a classroom. While the incident did not create major consequences, situations like this provoke the question, how does the school handle emergencies when students are not supervised?

“We have an open campus — students do leave and we are responsible for knowing where a student is supposed to be if they are here,” Assistant Principal Galen Rosenberg said. “We’re prepared for hours and hours of managing this problem if it actually happened.”

While Los Altos tries to ensure student safety, there is no way for the school to locate students that are off-campus in case of an emergency. A large portion of students take advantage of the open campus by deciding to leave. Rosenberg believes that in this situation, students are responsible for getting to safety on their own. He thinks students should be able to assess the situation and make the correct decisions to contact their parents or go home.

“We would know who we had and who we didn’t have,” Rosenberg said. “If students were off campus they would ultimately have to take responsibility to make contact with their parents.”

Even though students off-campus won’t be under the school’s supervision, the administration is prepared to make sure all students are safe no matter how long the process takes or how dangerous it may be. As the supervisor of emergency drills, he will spend however long it takes until he can confirm that every student has gotten to safety.

“Let’s say it was a big earthquake, the cellular system didn’t work and there was no way to communicate.” Rosenberg said. “In most cases that parents would come here, students would come here or [students would] go home. We would be here until every single student was released to their parents, [even] if it took until two o’clock in the morning.”

As the supervisor for emergency drills, Rosenberg has to make sure that situations like unplanned fire alarms go smoothly, as it can be a challenge to conduct the whole school and ensure all students understand and follow the procedure with respect to their safety. He understands that that there may be room for improvement.

“Can 2000 people get safely from point A to point B?” Rosenberg said. “What kind of challenges do we see? Like constrictions with gates or hallways or too many classrooms going this way instead of that way. It’s an opportunity to learn from the practice where we could make things better just in terms of the logistics of it.”

While this type of drill has been a regular practice for schools across the nation, there are some students that believe there should be a change in the way drills are conducted.

“I thought it was pretty inefficient,” junior Hassib Rangeen said. “If it’s just smoke every time no one’s going to take it seriously. We’ve been doing the same thing since kindergarten. If there is a fire, then yes I will go to the football field, and yes I will take it seriously, but [doing] the same drill is not going to help.”

Even with these disagreements, Rosenberg believes the school still must conduct these drills in order to be prepared for any type of accident occurring at school. Rosenberg hopes to use last Monday’s earthquake drill as an opportunity to remind students of the importance of safety and to take drills seriously.

“I don’t think I would want students to take this as some kind of military [operation],” Rosenberg said. “The point is if there were an emergency, would people do what they need to do to be safe? I think the practice that we do is [important].”