Thousands evacuated twice after fire alarm malfunction

Thousands were evacuated twice Wednesday when sounding alarms did not make noise during a routine fire drill. Witnesses say strobes in the Cesar Chavez Building were also not functioning. / C. Harold Pierce / el Don

By C. Harold Pierce

Thousands evacuated campus classrooms twice Wednesday, once for a planned drill, and then another hours later because the fire alarm system malfunctioned, Campus Safety officials said.

As the first pre-planned drill was called at about 10 a.m., strobe lights flashed, but sounding alarms did not make any noise, said District Safety and Security Supervisor Lt. James Wooley.

That prompted safety officers to redo the fire drill. The drill caused confusion. Dozens filed out of the C-Building and Cesar Chavez Building despite an announcement for them not to.

The system was working fine, Wooley said. It was the button’s fault, he added.

“At no time were any buildings left without a fire alarm,” Wooley said, citing reports from a technician sent out by Pyro-Comm, the Huntington Beach-based company that manages Santa Ana College’s safety alarm system.

This is also the first time the drill button has malfunctioned, Wooley said, since the system was installed in 2009.

A smoke detector in the Cesar Chavez Building has not worked in two weeks, Wooley said.

It’s scheduled for repair Friday.

“There’s no problems with the system, just pieces of the puzzle,” Wooley said.

Alarms were retested for a second time at about 2:15 p.m. when a Pyro-Comm technician arrived.

“We were just doing some practice for EOC [evacuation operation center] making sure the system is operational,” Mark Wheeler, Santa Ana College facilities manager said.

Pyro-Comm continuously alerts safety officials with flashing warning codes on the campus’ main alarm panel located in Campus Safety when parts of the system malfunction.

Safety officers silence the alarm about 15 to 20 times daily, Wooley said.

Despite safety official’s reports, strobes were not flashing on the second floor of the Cesar Chavez Building, witnesses said.

Wooley, however, believes that the strobes worked, citing a Pyro-Comm technician’s oral report.

“From the best information I have right now, they [worked],” Wooley said.

During a drill, building captains clear rooms to make sure nobody is left behind. They do not have to visually inspect fire alarms to ensure they are working, Wooley said.

The alarms are tested once a year, Wheeler said.