On Sept. 27, students in Queen Anne Hall (QA) were evacuated after an electrical malfunction that produced smoke on the first floor and eventually created a power outage throughout the whole building.
First-years Emily Sukiennik, Gretchen Young, Catie Spalding, Katherine Hass and Olivia Rose are all residents of the 1st right hallway in Queen Anne Hall. This hallway is designated as Substance- and Alcohol-Free Environment (SAFE) Housing for first-year female students.
Rose was in the Resident Office in Queen Anne Hall when the lights began flickering. Ten minutes later, another resident informed the Resident Assistant (RA) that there was a “funky smell” on the first floor. When Rose went back downstairs, “the whole first hallway is filled with a gray hazy smoke.” Public Safety (PS) was called and once the PS Officers arrived to determine what to do, the fire alarms went off so the building could be evacuated.
At this point, the residents were evacuated to Lot N, the parking lot above Queen Anne Hall’s parking lot. Once there, they waited for an hour to see what was going on and if they were able to leave. The fire trucks arrived and power for the whole building went off. Around 10 pm, their RA told them to find friends to stay with, but hopefully they will be back in their rooms later in the night.
Young expressed her frustration with the events, saying “there was no communication. We get evacuated and they say ‘wait an hour and hopefully you’ll hear about the situation within an hour.’ Well, two hours go by and we haven’t heard anything.” Young, Spalding and Haas were able to find alternative places to stay for the night. Eventually Rose and Sukiennik returned to Queen Anne Hall after a RA in Dorchester Hall told them they wouldn’t be to get back until the morning, but residents could return to get emergency medicine.
Rose told a PS Officer she had nowhere to stay for the night, because all of her friends were living in the same hall and it was too late to contact other people. Young commented on this situation, saying “there was no plan for people who couldn’t find a place to stay […] and that’s just unexcusable.”
At 12:45 am an emergency alert was emailed to all students saying “Residents living in Queen Anne can return at this time EXCEPT, residents living on 1st right, your side will be closed off for the remainder of the night.” “If you are uncomfortable staying in the residence other accomodations can be made by contacting Public Safety but be advised space is very limited.”
Eventually around 1 am, still without housing for the night, Rose’s mother called the school again to find them a place to stay. Rose said “the school made no effort to make sure we were okay, to make sure we weren’t going to be hurt.” They found temporary housing in Lewis Quad, but expressed that they felt unsafe walking across campus alone that night with their belongings. Several students in the residence had to take exams the next day.
The next morning, an AllStudents email was sent out stating there was an electrical malfunction in Queen Anne Hall that resulted in smoke and a power outage. Cobb House also lost power during the incident.
Following the incident, Rose said, “they were trying their best but their best was severely unprepared for the situation. And granted, fires and electrical malfunctions don’t happen all the time, but you need to have a plan of what to do if something does go wrong.”
The following Tuesday at a Student Government Association (SGA) meeting, SGA Senator Colette Nortman expressed some of the concerns of the residents in Queen Anne Hall, asking about the policies that are in place.
Executive Director of Student Life Derek Young was present at the meeting to respond to those concerns saying, “I think there were some issues getting word back to the students once everyone had been evacuated from the building.” Young said they have updated their protocols for better plans of moving students to secondary locations after evacuations, and stated that this electrical malfunction “was a rare instance.”
Assistant Director of the Physical Plant Brad Newkirk was also present at the meeting and echoed Young’s statements. “I think rare is a good way of putting it, it was not a mechanical failure … it was all the fact that it was a building that was constructed in the mid 60’s […].”
Summing up the experience of the other residents on 1st right, Gretchen Young said, “I hope this is a learning experience, and I’m sure it is. But it does raise the question, ‘what if this was a whole dorm problem?’ We have fire procedures but are they really prepared?”