Voice study: How far have Paly students walked responding to fire alarms?

Benjamin Huang and Jevan Yu

How far has the average Palo Alto High School student, or the average senior for that matter, walked because of fire alarms? Answering this question becomes difficult when factoring in multiple routes, different concentrations of students in different buildings and different distances.

[Related stories: “Voice study: Paly leads other Peninsula high schools in fire alarm frequency” and “Think Paly’s fire alarms are outrageous? Check out this school’s stats”]

To investigate this question, The Paly Voice gathered data from the Palo Alto Fire Department on every fire alarm occurrence from Sept. 1, 2014, to Jan. 8, 2019. We eliminated duplicate dates from several alarms triggering within seconds of each other due to one incident, dates that were not on school days and dates when the alarm was triggered before and after school hours.

Using a GPS watch, we measured the distance from each building on campus to the football field, using the paths we believed a student would be most likely to take. We then calculated a weighted average based on the approximate concentration of students in each building — the math and history building, for example, contains more students than the fine arts building.

Next, we multiplied the weighted average by the number of fire alarms in a given year to calculate the average distance that a student walked to the field and back in that year.

Based on our calculations, we found that the average student walked 2.33 miles during the 2015-2016 school year, 4.91 miles during the 2016-2017 school year, 5.81 miles during the 2017-2018 school year and 7.59 miles during the 2018-2019 school year.

The average Paly senior has therefore walked 20.5 miles by Jan. 8, 2018. Juniors have walked 18.3 miles, sophomores have walked 13.4 miles and freshmen have walked 7.6 miles. These calculations are based on the assumption that students complete the full evacuation route in response to any alarm that sounds during school hours.

We converted these distances to amount of calories burned through walking using a website listing caloric information based on weight.

Our results are summarized in the graphic below: