Paulson talks fire alarms, new evacuation plan

Dylan Zou and Soumya Jhaveri

Palo Alto High School principal Adam Paulson says vaping and false fire alarms are linked. Paulson is currently working with Paly’s Associated Student Body on an informational campaign about the dangers of vaping. “I think that’s the first place to start with any issue, awareness,” Paulson said. “Let students know what the issue or issues are.” Photo: Dylan Zou

The Palo Alto High School administration will be rolling out a new campaign against vaping as a response to a recent onslaught of fire alarms. 

To reduce the number of false fire alarms, Paly administration temporarily closed off several bathrooms on campus, including ones in the 100s and 800s buildings, during classtime. According to Paly principal Adam Paulson, the administration chose this short-term fix because it provided an opportunity to perform a check of the smoke detectors in the bathrooms.

“Paly is 100 years old, so different buildings have different wiring — you have different detectors,” Paulson said. “So we needed the time to go through during the day to just assess the situation.”

Paulson said the checkups had to happen during the day while staff members were on campus.

“I know it’s a slight inconvenience, but it’s worked out so far,” Paulson said.

All bathrooms were reopened this week save the bathrooms in the 100s building, which is still under inspection. Cameras are stationed outside a few of the bathrooms for security, but according to Paulson, no more than one new camera will be added.

“We’re not going to get any additional cameras;  we have good surveillance on campus,” Paulson said. “I don’t want to have more cameras on campus … but if emergencies come up we can always have a record of what happened.”

Additionally, Paulson is working with Assistant Principal of Operations Jerry Berkson and others on a new fire alarm evacuation plan. To address the potential issue of safety with students and staff congregated in one place and to increase efficiency, Paulson says he is exploring various evacuation possibilities.

“I’ve talked to a lot of teachers who’ve been here for 20, 30 years and talked about the various ways in which they’ve done it .… We’re looking at plans that might help make that process a little quicker but still be safe,” Paulson said. “There have been ideas of maybe we do two areas like the lacrosse field [and] the football field.”

Paulson’s goal is to get the fire alarm drill time down from 17-21 minutes to 10 minutes. Meanwhile, administrators are pushing for students to stop vaping. Flyers warning against it will be posted in bathrooms, according to Paulson.

“Well, I see the fire alarms and the vaping kind of hand in hand, so I’m working with the ASB right now on an informational campaign,” Paulson said.

In a Schoology message, Paulson wrote he is also “currently in communication with the Fire Marshall who is interested in helping with educational efforts. He wants to make clear to students that false alarms take away crucial resources that are meant to be utilized by those who are truly in need.”

Paulson outlined the disciplinary action that any student caught setting off a false fire alarm will face —  a multiple day suspension, a citation from the police and a fine ranging from $500 to $1000.

He affirmed his faith in Paly students and their ability to discern right from wrong.

“Paly students, in the vast majority of cases, will do the right thing,” Paulson wrote. “I know we can continue to partner to keep our campus a safe and welcoming community.”