Facebook alarms blast neighborhood | July 4, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - July 4, 2018

Facebook alarms blast neighborhood

by Kate Bradshaw

At least three times in June, residents in eastern Menlo Park have been awakened in the middle of the night by alarms blasting from rooftop stadium speakers at Facebook's new building under construction.

Residents have been roused by an amplified man's voice issuing instructions, punctuated by a series of grating beeps: "Attention. Attention. An emergency has been reported in this building. Please cease operations and leave the building, utilizing the nearest exit or fire exit. Do not use elevators. Repeat: do not use elevators."

The first of the early-morning alarms, says Hamilton Avenue resident Susan Erhart, occurred at 2 a.m. on June 17 and lasted for about 20 minutes.

The alarm happened again at 5:45 a.m. on Monday, June 25, and lasted for roughly 15 minutes, she said.

And again, the alarm was triggered Friday morning, June 29, around 3:40 a.m.

"Living with this chaotic disruption is awful," she told The Almanac in an email. "We should be able to sleep peacefully and enjoy our homes without being bombarded with these alarms."

Erhart and a flood of other locals have posted on The Almanac's Town Square online forum expressing their frustration with the noise.

In addition, some have been taking their frustration to the City Council's email inbox. Belle Haven resident Sigurd Schelstraete asked in an email why the alarm keeps sounding and questioned if the sound level is appropriate for an area with residents nearby.

Neighborhood resident Elizabeth Newell wrote to the council: "The alarms are so loud they can be clearly heard indoors in the center of Belle Haven, many blocks away and are at hearing-damaging volume on campus and nearby. ... Please remind Facebook of their responsibility to be a considerate neighbor and to not deafen their own employees."


Initially, Erhart said, residents' attempts to contact Facebook's local team appeared to be ignored.

She said she tried to contact Facebook representatives using an email address, phone number and Facebook "community" page that the company had provided to the public during a series of public meetings in recent months held to collect feedback from locals about the company's expansion plans at its proposed "Willow Village." She later took her concerns to Nextdoor and The Almanac's Town Square forum.

She said she eventually was contacted by a representative from Facebook who explained that the company's staff that works with the local community had not been receiving the residents' complaints, and was working with IT staff to fix the problem.

John Tenanes, Facebook vice president of global facilities and real estate, apologized in a written statement for the alarm being triggered.

"The fire suppression system in our building 21 detected a drop in water pressure, which triggered the alarm," he wrote, adding that the company's facilities team, general contractor and fire sprinkler installer are "working to fix this problem immediately."

"We take responsibility for the disturbance and want to emphasize there was no immediate danger to the community," he noted.

A safety problem?

According to Menlo Park Vice Mayor Ray Mueller, who said he has talked to City Manager Alex McIntyre about the problem, the alarm has reportedly been triggered by fluctuations in water pressure. Council members Kirsten Keith and Catherine Carlton have also requested that the city look into the matter. Keith told The Almanac she has asked for the matter to be added to the council's agenda if needed.

Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman told The Almanac that the alarms may be triggered by water pressure fluctuations, but it hasn't yet been confirmed as the cause. New alarm systems often trigger false alarms and require fine-tuning, he said.

Schapelhouman said he's already proposed one solution to Facebook: offering to work out a written agreement in which the company would be permitted to turn off the alarm system at night, but only if protocols are established and followed to make sure nobody is there and a log is kept of when the system is turned back on during the day.

"The immediate problem I want to solve is disruption to the community," he said. "It is a big deal, because I don't like letting anybody disable a system."

Part of the problem is that Facebook's Building 21 is an unusual and large structure. It is one of the "largest open-air office structures in the world," he said, with a giant garden on top, designed to hold thousands of people.

"Most buildings don't have thousands of people on top of them," he said.

Right now the problem appears to be that the alarms are coming through rooftop stadium speakers, and the sound of the alarm carries even farther for being elevated, he said.

For her part, Erhart said she hopes the city can help, and that the fire district can do something to turn the volume down and keep the alarm from waking the neighborhood up at night.

"I don't know why (it has to be) so loud," she said.


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