E-mail, phone alerts cause confusion for students, staff attempting to leave

By Michael McFall, Staff Writer

Although administrators ordered students to evacuate campus at about 3 p.m. Tuesday after a major gas line was broken along 500 South, many were still trying to leave campus about three hours later, when the U sent out the all-clear notice.

Three messages were sent out through the campus alert system8212;e-mail, text, and phone8212;regarding the gas leak, the first notifying recipients that the south buildings of campus had shut down, and the second demanding an evacuation of the rest of campus. However, staff and students were frustrated by a lack of direction or coordination in the evacuation plan.

Trevor Alcott, a meteorology graduate student, said he was dismayed that there would be no easy escape from campus because 100 South was completely backed up. He said he wished one of the alerts would have told him where to leave campus. The second e-mail only mentioned avoiding 500 South, where a construction crew had broken open a natural gas line.

“I’m very disappointed with how this was handled,” Alcott said.

Reggie Conerly, district manager for Chartwells, said he was chagrined by the pandemonium that was caused by a mass e-mail that provided no direction or instruction. For instance, Salt Lake City firefighters in the parking lot closest to the Social and Behavioral Sciences Building tried to stop any drivers they could from turning on their engines, a dangerous move in a gas leak zone. Warnings not to turn on car engines was not in the alerts, however.

Les Chatelain, special assistant for emergency management, said that if the U had the time, it would have evacuated the campus by sections and provided directions. When the Salt Lake City Fire Department demanded an evacuation of every building within a one-mile radius of the gas leak, however, it didn’t have time, he said.

With people moving in every direction and police coordination stretched around the entire campus, streets became clogged and some were stuck in their cars for more than an hour.

Sgt. Arb Nordgran, public information officer for the U Police Department, could not say where or how officers were dispersed to control traffic during the evacuation, besides the closed 500 South, where several officers were positioned along the route.

“Any time you close down an artery, you put pressure on the whole system,” Nordgran said. The heavy traffic and long waits are to be expected in any similar situation, he said.

Not everyone thought the same, however.

“Why evacuate everyone when you have to just sit in your car?” Conerly asked. A co-worker running by told Conerly he’d been stuck in the parking lot for 20 minutes and decided to try his luck with the TRAX line instead.

The frustrations didn’t end with chaotic evacuation results. The alert system itself was dodgy at best, as far as some students were concerned.

Alcott found out he had to evacuate the Williams Browning Building by word of mouth. Katie Pratt, a sophomore in English and a member of the Chi Omega sorority, said her house had not been notified about an evacuation although other Greek Row houses were evacuated.

Nirmal Shah, a freshman physics major, said he didn’t receive any notice.

Chatelain said the system sent an alert to anyone with a UMail account, although some people did not receive the e-mail until hours after it was sent. Additional alerts were also sent through text messages and automated phone calls for anyone who signed up for the extra services on the Campus Information System Web site.

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Tyler Cobb

Students leave the east entrance of the Marriott Library after receiving a message from the campus alert system that said campus had to be evacuated. The evacuation caused frustration for students because it took up to 3 hours to get off campus.