Over the summer, MacGregor was extensively renovated, which is a good thing. It means that we can now turn our heat up or down, the shower feels like a firehose, and there’s no more asbestos killing us as we sleep. MIT also installed a completely new fire alarm system. And although the voice that tells us to evacuate the building is terribly annoying, I can forgive that small deficiency since it might save my life. But there is another problem that is a bit more troubling.
The fire alarm testing was not completed over the summer, which meant that for several weeks, the residents of MacGregor got to listen to fire alarms and an annoying voice telling them to leave from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Even after classes started, the fire alarms continued to be tested for an hour or so at a time. While many residents certainly found this quite irritating, it in itself was not a danger.
The danger came when, after the fire alarms were supposedly done testing for the day, they went off again. In the words of Leon Zhou ’14, a resident of MacGregor, “We all thought that it was a drill or a test, not the real thing.” Another resident, Frances Chen ’13, pointed out that “after three weeks of testing, residents don’t know if it’s a drill or not.” As a result of this widely shared sentiment, only about fifteen to twenty people actually evacuated the building, and only after the alarms had been active for several minutes. The scary thing about this incident was that the alarms had gone off because they really did detect smoke. Had it been a fire, this story would not have a happy ending.
The next morning, the fire alarms went off again, and a substantially higher number of people evacuated successfully, so it appears that the residents now know to take future fire alarms seriously. But this does not change the fact that had the first alarm been more than smoke from an oven, the consequences could have been severe.
Looking beyond the dangers of desensitizing residents to the fire alarms, the alarms themselves were highly disruptive once classes began and students were trying to focus on work. They also made REX somewhat difficult for MacGregor — the most prominent memory many freshmen probably have of their time here was the fire alarms going off nonstop. That certainly doesn’t predispose freshmen to have a positive conception of MacGregor.
When MIT renovates dorms over the summer, the renovations should be complete before students return — and especially before classes start. Renovations that take place while students are in the dorms are disruptive, and in situations involving fire safety, potentially dangerous. We got lucky this time, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.