Library fire alarm test agitates students, staff members, profs

From Staff Reports

University Library officials said Tuesday that the Evanston fire department will be testing the building’s updated fire alarm system for about four more hours today despite complaints from students and professors looking for a quiet place to prepare for midterms.

Neither Northwestern nor the Evanston fire department knows why the test was slated for this week — each said the other was responsible for the scheduling snafu.

“We have very little control over this,” University Librarian David Bishop said. “This is when they said they were going to do the test.”

Said Chief Alan Berkowsky of the Evanston fire department, “We came on the days Northwestern gave us.”

The alarms forced classes in the library to be canceled and caused headaches for students trying to study. James Aagaard, a technical support consultant for the library, said library staff members were passing around ear plugs by Monday afternoon.

Starting Monday morning, fire department officials began testing each of the library’s 1,400 new smoke detectors. With each test, strobe lights flashed and the new public address system let out a wail. An automated voice said: “May I please have your attention. A fire emergency has been reported in the building. Please leave by the nearest exit. Do not use the elevators.”

Alarms continued until about 5 p.m. Monday and until 3:30 p.m. Tuesday. The fire department will be back today at 10 a.m.

Library staff members said they had received “several” complaints from students and professors but directed people to contact Bishop’s office. Bishop said Tuesday afternoon he had received only two complaints.

Construction of the new alarm system began about a year ago and wrapped up at the end of Fall Quarter. The library’s contractor completed tests during Winter Break, but Aagaard said the fire department couldn’t schedule the tests at that time. The Evanston fire department countered that the system wasn’t ready yet.

Bishop said that if the university had control, it would have paid extra and scheduled the tests after closing hours.

Aagaard said the fire department has found only a few small glitches.

Weinberg junior Ariel Fliman was trying to study for a midterm Tuesday through the noise.

“This couldn’t be a bigger nuisance,” he said.