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Student Center Alarm Forces Evacuation

By Stacey E. Blau
Editor in Chief

A false fire alarm in the Student Center forced the evacuation of about 250 people for about 30 minutes yesterday afternoon.

Alarms sounded and lights flashed throughout the Student Center at 3:10 p.m. and were soon followed by the outpouring of hundreds of people from the Student Center onto the outside plaza, where Campus Police officers and Physical Plant workers stood blocking off front entrances.

The cause of the false alarm was rain water that got into a smoke detector in a mechanical space on the the fifth floor of the Student Center, said William G. McCue, senior communications console operator in Physical Plant. The water came in through a ventilation fan that takes in air from the outside.

The amount of water that made its way in was minimal and caused no damage, McCue said. "It only takes a drop" to set off the alarm, he said. "It is sensitive."

Electricians from Physical Plant worked to replace the detector, which was ruined by even the small amount of water that got into it, McCue said.

A Cambridge Fire Department truck arrived on the scene at 3:25 p.m. but left only two minutes later when it was clear that there was no fire.

"The trucks came, and it was kind of a ruckus," said Campus Police Captain John Driscoll.

Many annoyed at inconvenience

The evacuation kept students, workers, and administrators alike outside in yesterday afternoon's cold damp weather. Many were annoyed at the 30-minute interruption.

"I was in line to make a purchase at LaVerde's" Market, said Christina L. Gehrke '99. "I am very pissed off. I was trying to get lemons."

"Fire alarms have a bad, bad, bad tendency to interrupt things," said Charles H. Hamilton '97.

"It's a hassle putting everything away and having to take everything out later while the customers are waiting," said Filomena Paiva, who works at the Baybank on the first floor of the Student Center.

When the alarm rang, "we started putting everything away, the foreign currency, closing the vaults. It takes five to 10 minutes," Paiva said.

Carmen Cardillo, who works at LaVerde's, noted that the evacuation meant a loss of potential revenue for the store. "The bank loses, LaVerde's loses, we all lose," he said.

"Well, this certainly isn't the first time" this has happened, said Pramod N. Achar '97, who was on his way to buy a CD at Newbury Comics when the alarm went off. "It happens two or three times a year."

Some, however, were pleased to have a break and had a more casual appraisal of the situation.

"This is awesome," said Mike Domal, who works at LaVerde's.

"You have the safety of the police officers and all," said Domal, standing right outside the main entrance to the Student Center. "They won't let you in the building, but they'll let you three feet away from the building."

"I work, so if I get a few minutes off, it's good thing. Fortunately, I wasn't making a pair of glasses," said Eva Klimczyk, who works at MITOptical. "Well, I would be pissed off it were a prank fire alarm."

"I was at Athena. I logged out. Iwas about to go and develop film for Technique," said Sarah L. McDougal '00. "These kind of things happen. I'd rather be outside and safe than inside."

Cristin A. Gonzlez and Douglas A. Heimburger contributed to the reporting in this story.