False Alarm Flushes Out Minnewaska Hall

What began as a typical Tuesday night for students took an unexpected detour for Minnewaska residents, when suddenly an engaged sprinkler system signaled an emergency, sending them outside of the dorm for a little over two hours. It was discovered upon re-entry that the 211-214 wing had been greeted by flood water, evacuating students and also relocating 12 from two suites in that area, according to Shayna Carney, the resident director of Minnewaska Hall.

Fourth-year English major Katie Geiger remembers recording a video on Snapchat at 10:18 p.m. specifically when the first alarm sounded, sending waves of students out the door –– per routine. However, this wasn’t indicative of the usual “stop, drop and roll” drill, because a portion of the second floor was immersed in water as the students were anxious to return from outside.

“We had no idea what was going on. I just thought it was the usual, like someone forgot to put water in their mac and cheese or ramen,” Geiger said. “So then about 13 minutes later [the alarm went off] and we were like, ‘okay, everyone can go in,’ and when I got to the second floor, that’s when I saw that the hallway was flooded… then we got told like, ‘guys, you’ve gotta get out, you can’t be back in yet.’”

The cause has since been determined to be a clothing hanger that was hung on the sprinkler in a student suite, according to Gary Buckman, director of facilities operations and maintenance, ultimately triggering the alarm to sound and the water to spurt about the area.

The cost of repairs is estimated to be $50,000, also according to Buckman, who revealed that there is “extensive water damage” on the second floor, in addition to “water infiltration to the first floor and basement levels.” Cleanup work is being performed by an outside contractor and is expected to conclude by Friday. 

Additional areas of concern include damaged sheetrock, various walls to be dried out and affected carpeting to be “extracted, dried and removed,” Buckman said. Regarding payment, the “costs and the source of funding are still being determined,” according to College Spokesperson Chrissie Williams.

The directly affected students were offered temporary on-campus housing, according to Carney, and their anticipated return to their assigned housing is this Friday. Due to protection under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the Office of Residence Life could not disclose further information regarding the affected students to be reached for comment.

Carney said other suites were also affected as a result of “minor flooding or water pooling” within the area, but they did not have to be relocated. She mentioned that her office is “still working with students to inventory any potential property damage” concerning their belongings.

“Because I knew what was going on, I wasn’t scared or anything. I was just mostly annoyed because it was just flooding, it wasn’t a fire, so we should have been allowed to go back in the building sooner,” Geiger said. “My roommate had an 8 a.m. so she was not happy.”

In the midst of the incident, students were offered space in the lounge of Shawangunk Hall, a neighboring dorm separated by Peregrine Dining Hall. There, they played board games with resident assistants and waited for an update that the night could resume inside their rooms. Geiger reports that the students had initially stood by the basketball court or sat at tables near the cafe Sweets & Treats, but that she and others ultimately walked over to Shawangunk, where some information and updates regarding the emergency were being delivered.

Around 12:40 a.m., students were able to re-enter Minnewaska Hall. Students in the affected section were still able to enter their rooms as the cleaning process was underway, but “needed to exercise caution immediately” as they took either the staircase or elevator back up to their suites, according to Carney.

“We want to encourage and inform students to continue to respond just as they did in this instance for all future alarms, or any urgent/emergency situation in general,” Carney said. “They evacuated quickly, went to the fire alarm meeting spot and listened to staff as they gave directions.”

During a walkthrough at 4:30 a.m., any remaining standing water in the affected wing had been cleaned up, according to Carney, who conducted follow-up efforts overnight relating to the situation with the appropriate departments.

“We can use this incident as a teachable moment to remind students, faculty and staff that sprinkler heads are very fragile and should never be touched,” said Scott Schulte, director of the office of emergency management in a prepared statement. “The quick actions of UPD [the University Police Department] and the Fire Department prevented additional water damage, which also contained the spread of the water and minimized the time it took to repair the damage to Minnewaska Hall.”

Kelsey Fredricks
About Kelsey Fredricks 38 Articles
Kelsey Fredricks is the Oracle's Fall 2019 Multimedia Editor.