Protesters Sound False Alarms

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Members of the California Coalition Against the Criminal System claimed responsibility for pulling fire alarms in several campus buildings yesterday morning to protest the passage of state ballot initiatives.

Approximately 12 fire alarms rang in at least 10 campus buildings, including Wheeler, Dwinelle, Evans and Barrows halls and the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union.

UC police officers and electricians evaluated the buildings to ensure that there was no fire risk, said Deputy Fire Chief Debra Pryor. Because of the number of alarms, it was difficult for the fire department to properly investigate every incidence, she added.

"We are trying to limit the number of times the fire department needs to respond and try to get information before we roll the trucks in," she said.

The Berkeley Fire Department stationed trucks from four stations around the perimeter of the campus so they could respond to additional alarms quickly, she added. Berkeley has a total of seven fire stations.

Police found signs posted next to fire alarm boxes in several buildings that said the campus should "be alarmed" about the passage of Propositions 21 and 22, said UC police Capt. Bill Cooper. Fliers were also available on Sproul Plaza.

Tampering with a fire alarm is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail and/or a $1,000 fine.

Cooper said if people are injured while evacuating buildings, the crime becomes much more severe and is prosecuted as a felony. He added, however, he has not heard any reports of injury from the recent incident.

"People don't always think of the consequences of pulling a fire alarm," he said. "Firemen are removed from legitimate fires, people can be hurt exiting buildings or hit by fire engines. Also, it is a case of people crying wolf and the next fire alarm may not be taken seriously."

Officers are interviewing possible witnesses and may also dust the fire alarm boxes for fingerprints, Cooper said.

Because the campus does not pay the fire department on a per-call basis, Cooper said he did not know the costs of sending trucks and personnel.

Along with causing work for both the fire and police departments, he said, the incident distracted students and may have interrupted midterm exams.

"The disruption was pretty significant; it was disrupting to classes and buildings," he said. "The police will be talking to people in buildings to find out if they saw anything and try to narrow it down."

Currently, Cooper said the police do not have any suspects but have received several tips from people claiming to have witnessed suspicious activity on campus.

Tom Klatt, director of Emergency Planning, said the alarms concerned employees at several fire stations.

"I have heard that four different stations were involved," he said. "The costs were significant (and) more than half of the city's resources were tied up. It was disruptive to the university's mission of research and teaching."

Klatt said he sent an e-mail to building coordinators around 11:30 a.m., alerting them that there had been a number of fire alarms pulled. He said he told administrators they should follow proper evacuation procedures and not ignore the alarms.


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