On a day when the winter vortex plunged the midwest into record low temperatures, a false fire alarm sent administrators, faculty and students into the cold around Emporia State’s administrative building. 

The alarm falsely sounded twice, once briefly and then later a few minutes before 11 a.m. yesterday, causing the evacuation of dozens from Plumb Hall during a wind chill advisory that continued until noon, according to the National Weather Service.

“We had a fault on a panel that sent the system into alarm mode, and we’ve corrected that,” said Bill McKernan, assistant director of facilities. “We wouldn’t do a drill during school hours, especially not today.”

McKernan also said that the electrical fire smell on the first floor of Plumb Hall had nothing to do with the fire alarm malfunction. 

“There is an HVAC motor that had some issues with it a couple of days ago and that smell was just around,” McKernan said. “But that smell wouldn’t have caused the fire alarm to go off anyway.” 

The HVAC motor is part of Plumb Hall’s heating and cooling system, according to McKernan. 

In an email sent to administration after 1 p.m., McKernan told administrators that the building was safe to occupy and the Automated Control Systems contractor, who was on campus, said that panels of this kind have been causing issues and creating a fault that causes an alarm. 

“The panel has been taken offline to prevent further false alarms and does not compromise the integrity of the overall system,” McKernan said in his email. “Replacement of the fire control systems are planned and being updated across campus.  Today’s weather wasn’t cooperative, but we appreciate that most occupants evacuated the building and didn’t become complacent.”

Automated Control Systems, located in Leawood, Kansas, is the business hired by the university to run and program the campus fire system.

ACS “specializes in programming a fire system to work with the entire building automation system,” according to their website acssmartbuildings.com. 

The Emporia Fire Department was not notified of the alarms going off at Plumb Hall. However, this is not uncommon for alarm malfunctions, according to the Emporia Fire Department Dispatch and Willy Ward of the Emporia Fire Department. 

“If a fire alarm is going off, the only time that we can respond is if somebody notifies us or the alarm system notifies the dispatch and we get called up to ESU,” said Eron Steinlage, Emporia Fire Battalion Chief. 

Usually ESU maintenance takes care of fire alarms at ESU when there is no fire, according to Steinlage. 

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