We had a frustrating issue when I was an RA in college. A group of people decided that it would be funny to pull the fire alarm. A lot.

We typically had a fire drill once a term, and the staff knew well in advance of the drill. We'd keep an eye on our residents to make sure everyone evacuated as expected.[ref]There was a fine related to not evacuating, as well as almost guaranteed eviction from student housing.[/ref] It was a clean system, but even the drills were frustrating.

One term, some pranksters though it would be funny to force an impromptu drill. At 3am. Every week. The entire term.

"Frustrating" isn't a strong enough term.

After the fifth or sixth evacuation, we had to start clearing the building room-by-room to make sure everyone evacuated. Students were just as frustrated as the staff, so they'd begun ignoring the alarms entirely, hoping it was business as usual and that no one would care.

One week, though, the RAs doing the room-by-room search ran frantically back into our team staging area.

"Guys, the building is actually on fire."

As frustrating as our evacuation policy was, and as time-consuming as the room-by-room search, they both added up to save the day (and lives) that morning.


I went furniture shopping yesterday afternoon at Ikea. It was 95 degrees out, and the parking lot was packed with people enjoying Ikea's over-powered air conditioner.[ref]When I say packed, I mean packed. We parked at the edge of the lot, just lucky enough to find a spot as it opened. Several other shoppers were parking at the neighboring strip mall and walking over.[/ref]

We walked through the showroom, enjoyed the various "better living in xxx square feet" displays, and eventually decided on some new furniture we wanted.

Downstairs, we grabbed a flat card and made our way through the self-service warehouse to grab the various components ... and the fire alarm went off.

Coupled with a gravelly, nearly-incoherent voice instructing us to "mumble mumble move to a safe mumble mumble ask our team mumble mumble," we were instructed by store employees to leave our packages behind and exit the building. It was a bit chaotic, but the store emptied in just a few minutes, with some managers frantically trying to verify receipts outside as hundreds of shoppers exited with merchandise.

It was hot, so we just left.

Most everyone else went home; we went down the street for frozen yogurt and returned to Ikea a half hour later.

The parking lot was empty. We parked in the first row, right next to the door.

The store was empty. We made it back to our cart in no time.

The checkout was empty. We had to wait for 1 person to check out before we were helped.

"So, what was the alarm about?"

"Some jackass decided to smoke in the bathroom."

"Wow. Do you guys get to bill him for all of the lost sales?"

"I wish. My manager's been in a panic. We lost a lot of customers. Might not recover today's sales. She's having a bit of a breakdown right now."

I explained to some people later that, if it had been a fire, Ikea has insurance policies in place to cover the loss in merchandise and any damage to the building. But they likely don't have insurance against lost sales as a result of store closure.

It's not always possible to expect the unexpected. Residents tired of fire alarms hid in their rooms, not realizing there was an actual fire on the floor below. Forcing a room-by-room search helped prevent any kind of catastrophe that could have occurred.

Stores don't expect to have patrons smoking in their bathrooms and triggering fire alarms. They don't expect customers to trigger a massive loss in real product sales, either. But there are still ways to prepare for and minimize the impact of that eventuality.