UCLA might be considered the top public university this year, but that label clearly doesn’t extend to the University’s emergency response protocol.
The Getty Fire started around 1:30 a.m. Monday morning and rapidly grew to more than six hundred acres, destroying multiple homes in the process. Instead of providing information about evacuations, the University administration simply informed students that they “weren’t in danger.” Left in limbo until classes were cancelled at 9:30 a.m., thousands of students attended class and commuted to campus in dangerous conditions.
Unfortunately, this mishandling represents the latest event in a series of failures that is tantamount to negligence.
The first instance of major mismanagement occurred during the 2016 shooting, when students were left hiding in buildings on campus and on the hill, terrified, without information for over two hours. The University’s response was to resume classes the next day and offer counseling. Only after a wave of student outrage did the administration commit to improving their emergency response infrastructure and policies.
The response to the 2017 Skirball fire was equally inadequate. The University’s reaction stirred confusion and panic, despite alleged improvements to the Bruin Alert system. Moreover, classes were made “voluntary” instead of being cancelled in the midst of blackening skies and plummeting air quality. Students were unfairly forced to choose between their health and their grades.
True to form, the eruption of the Getty fire on October 28th was ineptly handled. The first message through the Bruin Alert system didn’t go out until 4:35 a.m., a full three hours after the fire began. During this time, flames were visible from the tops of dorms and off campus residences, prompting some students to begin evacuating. When information did finally arrive from the University, it was vague and confusing. Once again, UCLA administration had taken it upon themselves to make an emergency response into an emergency itself.
Walking on campus yesterday, Chloe DeRoon, a fourth-year psychology major, said, “I felt myself panting… my lungs felt dry. I didn’t want to take full, deep breaths.”
Classes are scheduled to resume today, even though the fire is only 5% contained and has worsened due to evening Santa Ana winds. Chancellor Gene Block claims the “decision to cancel classes… was not a result of any imminent danger to our campus.” While this may be true, Block’s statement exposes the University’s reductionist approach to emergency situations. When will the administration recognize that the impacts of these events extend beyond the immediate physical danger they pose?
Ultimately, while the lack of timely response from University management makes for stellar memes, student safety and health clearly suffer.
By: Allison Malone
Class of 2020