Campus emergency systems aided evacuations Monday night

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UC Berkeley students, professors and staff members received a series of text messages and emails Monday night alerting them to the ongoing emergency situation on campus.

Although the WarnMe alert system drew some criticism in 2011 after many did not receive notification about a shooting at Haas School of Business, the campus’s multiple warning systems appear to have been utilized effectively during Monday’s power outage and explosion, campus officials said.

Campus police and officials used nearly all emergency systems in place to respond to the events — including WarnMe, the campus siren-and-PA system and the emergency phone line, which played a looped message with updates on the situation. Messages were also posted on the campus public affairs website, Facebook and Twitter pages, according to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore.

UCPD sent four messages via WarnMe, said UCPD spokesperson Lt. Eric Tejada.

After the explosion near California Hall about 6:40 p.m., a message went out at 6:50 p.m. telling recipients to evacuate campus immediately due to an emergency.

“We know that there will be situations where individuals maybe might get (WarnMe messages) late or not receive them,” Gilmore said. “We will be taking a close look at what worked and what needs to be improved.”

Gilmore encouraged students who did not receive text message alerts to update their information through the BearFacts website and choose text messaging as the preferred option for receiving emergency communication.

Senior Christophe Hansen-Estruch was studying at C.V. Starr East Asian Library when the campus initially lost power.

“There was this noise like a ‘bmf,’ and then all the lights went off,” he said.

After a few minutes of confusion, a library staff member went up each floor to inform students that there had been a power outage and that there was no immediate emergency, he said.

Hansen-Estruch also said he received an email from WarnMe, but because he did not sign up for text alerts, he received the warning much later.

UCPD used the campus PA system to send broadcasts instructing individuals to leave campus after the explosion occurred. Throughout the evening, police officers entered and checked campus buildings to ensure all individuals had been evacuated, Gilmore said.

The campus’s emergency systems effectively served their purpose, said UCPD Lt. Marc DeCoulode.

Although the residence halls did not need to be evacuated Monday night, the campus will work with city officials to find suitable areas for relocation in case the need arises in the future, said Amina Assefa, manager at the campus’s Office of Emergency Management.

“We would start looking for open spaces in the city of Berkeley and start directing people,” she said. “We would also use campus transportation services if we have to move people further away.”

Contact Jessie Lau at [email protected].