On Earthquakes and Evacuations

Tremors were felt in the Academic Block today, as a result of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal at a little past a quarter to twelve earlier this day. Since today was a working Saturday for the first, second, and third years, the classrooms on the first floor were full of students, and the upper floors were populated with both teaching and non-teaching staff.

Upon feeling the tremors, the students of the second year immediately evacuated, warning the first years along the way. In the third year, upon sensing the earthquake, the teacher, Ms. Akila R. S. immediately informed the students and supervised their evacuation. The faculty members, too, immediately evacuated, leading to a large group of students and faculty standing outside the Acad Block reception, waiting on news about the rest of the academic day from the Registrar’s office.

What is notable here is that none of the batches were ever officially informed about the earthquake. There was no announcement in the classrooms, and no alarm to warn the students about the earthquake, even after the tremors had passed. Given the fact that the alarm in the Academic Block and in other areas of campus regularly goes off without reason, whether people would actually have evacuated is doubtful in itself; nevertheless, the complete absence of any action from the administration was shocking. Later, when an incensed student approached one of the wardens about the fact that the administration was shirking its duty, she was informed that the students should be “wise enough” to evacuate themselves. Perhaps even more worrying than this attitude was the fact that the first years evacuated much after the rest of the college, long after the first wave of tremors had subsided. When the first announcement about the earthquake was made in class, then the teacher in charge announced that he would evacuate after an official announcement was made. When students in the classroom, concerned about the present situation, asked the teacher if they could evacuate, then they were again told to wait for the official notification. The students finally evacuated only after a student from another year walked in and made an informal announcement, after which most of the first years stood up and walked out without permission.

This incident has seriously brought into question the ability of the University to adequately inform the students about any situation that should be brought to their notice. There was no notice from the administration, and no announcement regarding evacuation. Apart from the actions of a few brave faculty members, who evacuated the third year classrooms and later patrolled the halls after the tremors to ensure that none of the students were still present in the Academic Block, the administration did not take action of any kind apart from later announcing that classes were cancelled for the rest of the day.

Is it not the responsibility of the University administration to ensure that the students are well-informed about such situations? When issues arise that may compromise the safety of the student body, is it not upon the administration to ensure that the students are evacuated or otherwise taken to a safe place? Should other incidents also arise regarding similar situations, then are the students to be left to their own devices, with the only help they receive in the form of brave faculty members acting in their personal capacity? Is there to be no institutional response to such a situation?

Further, upon the happening of a calamity such as an earthquake, is it justified to wait for an official announcement before ordering an evacuation, and further, to refuse to give permission to evacuate an entire classroom until such an announcement arrives? Is the safety of the students within the classroom not paramount?

The Student Welfare Committee has announced that it plans to ask for fire- and earthquake-drills to be conducted on campus in order to adequately prepare the student body and the faculty and non-faculty members for such a situation. While such a step is laudable, the alarm system should also be upgraded in order to allow for immediate warnings – the present system is triggered so often that it is largely ignored. Further, a PA system should be installed in order to allow for immediate announcements to be made; if such a system is unfeasible, then the administration must come up with an alternative solution to this problem. Evacuation should immediately take place, regardless of whether an official announcement or notification has been issued.

Lastly, this newspaper would like to note that there were several brave faculty members who not only evacuated their classrooms, but also later patrolled the hallways after the successive tremors caused by aftershocks in order to ensure that none of the students were still present. On behalf of Glasnost, we would like to thank you for your concern and bravery.

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