USC

Students and staff concerned over HAZMAT incidents

Without follow up information, the USC community worries about the effectiveness of these alerts.

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Students enrolled in TrojanAlert were left unsettled after receiving two notifications from USC’s Department of Public Safety Sunday night and Monday morning regarding separate hazardous material spills that occurred at Seaver Science Center and Allan Hancock Foundation.

These incidents leave students concerned about the DPS notification system, specifically the lack of comprehensive and follow up information made available to them.

The first notification came after Seaver Science Center was evacuated Sunday at around 5:30 p.m. due to a pungent odor emitted from an unidentified fluid that had covered nearly 40 square-feet of the first floor laboratory, according to Los Angeles Fire Department spokesperson Brian Humphrey.

The notification was sent Sunday evening by DPS via text, email and Twitter. It warned students to stay away from 920 Bloom Walk until further notice, but emphasized that no immediate danger was present.

DPS sent a follow up notification at about 8 p.m., revealing that university operations had returned to normal. However, by 6 a.m., a new HAZMAT incident at the Allan Hancock Building elicited a similar notification to students. No information was provided other than a warning to stay away from the area.

“If I am getting an alert like that... I would want more information,” said Diya Thapliyal, a junior computer science and engineering major. “I would love to know how it was resolved, maybe even just a short description as to what occurred. It just makes it easier for me as a student to know what to do in that type of situation, even if it is unlikely that I will encounter it.”

The evacuation notification was the only notice Dornsife Payroll Services staff Zulma Orellana received upon arriving to campus at 8:30 a.m. Monday morning.

“Whether it’s flammable or dangerous, it’s kind of scary knowing that it had happened so recently,” said Orellana.

Staff members at Seaver say these mysterious evacuations aren’t uncommon.

“There’s a lot of labs that have chemicals and machines that have a lot of very, very, very sensitive sensors and if one of those sensors go off balance, there’s usually an alert,” said a project assistant for the graduate program who preferred to remain anonymous. “I got hired a year ago, and within the year, there’s probably been three or four times that we’ve had to evacuate.”

One Ph.D student in the building at the time of evacuation was denied further information after two police officers escorted him out.

LAFD said the spill “was largely the result of a ‘water wash’ activation and represented no danger.”

Annenberg Media has reached out to DPS for more information but has yet to hear back.

Visit USC DPS’s Hazardous Materials Incident page for more information and to report spills: https://fsep.usc.edu/emergency-planning/usc-emergency-procedures/emergency-procedures-for/hazardous-materials-incident/