As most of campus lay dormant early Saturday morning, a test of the university’s crisis management protocol was just beginning.

 

Once authorities had discovered an alleged drug lab in a ninth-floor Harbin Hall room, officials ordered an immediate evacuation of the building due to safety concerns. Harbin residents awoke not to their alarms, but to a rushed departure conducted by police and resident assistants. They evacuated the building room-by-room around 6 a.m., after the fire alarm system failed to sound on the first try. Ninth-floor residents were initially told to report to the common room on the eighth floor.

 

 

 

According to Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, the residence hall’s alarms underwent a routine inspection just last week and passed fire safety standards along with other on-campus buildings. On Monday, university spokeswoman Julie Bataille confirmed the alarm system passed a D.C. Fire Marshal’s inspection prompted by Saturday’s alarm malfunctioning; alarm tests of other residence halls occurred Wednesday and Thursday.

 

 

 

“We’ve had technicians looking at it, but they have assured us it was a one-time problem,” Olson said, adding that the internal mechanism alerting Department of Public Safety personnel and the Office of Residence Life did work correctly on Saturday morning.

 

 

 

But Saturday’s glitch may not be the first to have occurred in Harbin this calendar year. After an eighth-floor kitchen fire in April, Vice President for Facilities and Student Housing Karen Frank told THE HOYA that DPS was notified via a smoke detector.

 

 

 

“All fire protection systems, including the fire alarm, functioned as they should,” she said at the time. Harbin residents in the building when the fire broke out, however, said that alarms either failed to activate or could only be set off with a delay.

 

 

 

Luis Fortuno (SFS ’14), a resident of Harbin’s eighth floor, was so startled by the officials banging on his door around 6 a.m. that he approached his entryway armed with a tennis racquet for protection. But the calls did not stir everyone, said one student living on the ninth floor; he didn’t wake up until around 7:15 a.m., about an hour after the intended evacuation of Harbin’s 400-plus residents.

 

 

 

The day of the incident, other students living in Harbin told of a chaotic departure from their residence hall.

 

 

 

“We were just kind of following the crowd like cattle,” said Joanne Esteban (SFS ’14), a resident of Harbin 7.

 

 

 

With little to none of their personal belongings – including GOCards, midterm study materials and laptops – pajama-clad residents eventually descended on Sellinger Lounge, the Intercultural Center and O’Donovan Hall as they waited for the OK to return to their rooms.

 

 

 

At 9:19 a.m., Executive Director of Academic Housing Patrick Killilee emailed Harbin residents that it was safe to head back, only to send a message four minutes later reneging on the go-order. The alarms functioned properly during the second evacuation.

 

 

 

As many Harbin residents headed to Leo’s for breakfast (they were permitted to enter without a swipe of their GOCard), other Georgetown students caught wind of the drug bust, particularly as campus, local and national media outlets picked up the story.

 

 

 

“I didn’t think it was true,” said Audrey Avila (NHS ’13), who was eating in Leo’s around 10:30 a.m. She said Harbin residents seemed visibly frustrated. “They were confused and arguing with each other about whether they could get in [to the dorm] or not.”

 

 

 

The official response to student concerns came about three hours later, when Olson sent a blast email to Harbin residents updating them on the situation. Triggered by suspicions of methamphetamine production in a Harbin room, an impending inspection by Drug Enforcement Administration personnel would determine whether students could safely return. Further investigation found that the clandestine lab was producing dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a hallucinogenic known to induce a near-death or dream-like state.

 

 

 

Around 2 p.m., all of campus was forwarded Olson’s email to Harbin residents; for students like Adrian Mansylla (MSB ’13), the university’s message, though informative, was not prompt enough.

 

 

 

“The information was good, but it was too late,” Mansylla said.

 

 

 

“We shouldn’t have had to look things up on the Internet,” Avila added.

 

 

 

On Saturday morning around 10 a.m., Alex Honjiyo (SFS ’13) was left wondering why he had not heard from the university even though media outlets had been reporting at the time that the roads around Georgetown were closed due to the drug lab.

 

 

 

Neither the university’s emergency HOYAlert notification system nor the Campus Alert System – a series of steam whistles that signal to the campus community to take shelter when activated – were utilized on Saturday during the seven hours between the first evacuation and Olson’s first broadcast email.

 

 

 

“It was clear to us from all the guidance we were getting that there was not a threat to the broader community. There was not a safety risk to the broader community,” Olson said.

 

 

 

After being cordoned off with caution tape for much of the day, Harbin Patio was reopened Saturday evening. At 6:26 p.m., residents were permitted to enter the building once it had been cleared of any safety risks by the DEA. Thankful to be back in their rooms, many residents were at ease with the university’s response.

 

 

 

“They wouldn’t let 400 students back in the building if it wasn’t safe,” said Jessica Kocan (COL ’14) a Harbin fifth floor resident.

On Saturday, Charles Smith (SFS ’14), John Romano (COL ’14) and University of Richmond freshman Joseph Perrone were arrested for manufacturing a controlled substance. Romano was cleared of charges and released on Monday, while Perrone and Smith face federal charges. On Tuesday, Harbin resident Kelly Baltazar was arrested for possession and intent to distribute marijuana.

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