The fire alarm system in the Southwest Quad is currently offline due to technical difficulties. KRISTEN SKILLMAN/THE HOYA
The fire alarm system in the Southwest Quad is currently offline due to technical difficulties.
KRISTEN SKILLMAN/THE HOYA

The Southwest Quad has been experiencing major technical difficulties with its fire alarm system, with nine alarms going off between Sep. 25 and Oct. 11.

Although the specific cause for the malfunction is still unclear, the Office of Facilities has narrowed the problem down to low water pressure in the sprinkler system of the P1 floor of the parking garage, which is serviced by Loop One, one of 25 service loops between the hand-pull fire alarms, the smoke detectors, the sprinklers and other devices within the fire alarm system. Loop One is primarily located in the mechanical rooms and stairwells of SWQ.

“Within the building, there are over 900 devices, so we’re trying to track down the devices that we think are defective and replace them,” Vice President for Facilities and Planning Robin Morey said.

Morey stressed the complexity of the fire alarm system.

“There’s constant communication from a panel to the smoke detector on what’s happening, whether that’s heat detection, a hand pull, whatever,” Morey said. “These systems are constantly monitoring each other.”

To minimize the negative impact on the students residing in the three SWQ residence halls, the university took the automatic fire alarm activation system offline Oct. 11 and replaced it with a fire-watch system, conducted by Department of Public Safety officers. During the fire watch, smoke alarms and fire alarms will not automatically activate an audible alarm, as usually occurs. Rather, a signal will immediately display on a continuously monitored control panel, and one of two patrolling officers in the building will be dispatched to confirm the emergency. This officer will then manually sound the alarm if there is reasonable cause.

According to Morey, the fire watch will remain in place until the automatic alarm system has been fixed.

“I want it to be completely clear that the building is totally protected, and the occupants are not in any danger,” Morey said. “Really, for us, it’s about having [officers] there 24/7 when they really don’t need to be. We need to get the system operating independently.”

Georgetown technicians are working closely with Seimens, the system manufacturer and maintenance provider, and the Protection Engineering Group, a professional engineering group specializing in fire safety. Morey reported that the technicians have already made significant progress.

“We’re getting closer,” Morey said. “I wouldn’t be responsible if I said we know what the problem is, but we found some issues yesterday in one of the mechanical rooms. We took them out of service, and the system stabilized. We’ve also found some other anomalies since then.”

Facilities will re-evaluate the situation Monday.

Students expressed displeasure with the alarms.

“The ones that went off in the afternoon were OK, but the ones that went off at 5 a.m., they’re really irritating,” Reynolds resident Sung Sun (COL ’14) said. “There were a lot of emails saying to listen to the alarms and get out, but I’m pretty sure a lot of people weren’t listening,”

McCarthy resident Michelle Larson (NHS ’16) agreed.

“I never really knew if they were real or not, but as they started to happen more frequently, I started assuming they were fake,” Larson said. “It was actually dangerous — a lot of people weren’t leaving. We got a lot of emails saying to bear with them, but obviously it wasn’t a priority.”

SWQ residents have been receiving continuous informational emails from the Office of Planning and Facilities Management and the community directors of each of the residence halls.

“In each of those communications, students were reminded that an immediate evacuation is imperative anytime a fire alarm is activated,” Director of Residential Education Edward Gilhool said. “The health and safety of our residents is our highest priority.”

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