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The Dartmouth
February 26, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Guns, Germs and Steel: How to survive disasters at Dartmouth

The Baker Tower clock rang eight times on the morning of February 18, 1904. As campus began to come alive and students awoke, a fire broke out in Dartmouth Hall. Clouds of smoke billowed from the building as students raced to the scene amid sounds of ringing alarms. Water supplies for the volunteer fire department were low, and crowds stood idly by in sub-zero temperatures and watched as the iconic building burned to the ground. Less than two hours later, nothing was left but a pile of ashes and two window frames.

The disaster has left a smoldering scar in Dartmouth’s history, even though the building was rebuilt years ago. Prior to the flames, Dartmouth Hall hosted recitation halls, a chapel, the library and student dormitories. It was a symbol of the College, and its untimely demise destroyed one of the last physical pieces of Dartmouth’s early years.

We’ve been lucky that one of our community’s greatest disasters occurred over a century ago. Tucked away in the Upper Valley’s quiet hills, it’s easy to overlook the possibility of danger. Students abandon laptops at library desks for hours, and it’s common to leave dorm rooms unlocked. The wiring in Dartmouth Hall has been updated in recent years, so it’s unlikely that it will once again burst into flames on a winter morning. Here at The Mirror, however, preparing for the worst is second nature. While we certainly hope that none of the following situations ever occurs, students must understand just what to do when everything hits the fan at once.


A senior sitting in the corner of the 1902 Room drops an anthology of British literature. The crash of the 3,000-word text jars you awake. You check your phone three times to make sure it’s actually 4:34 a.m., and realize you passed out on the couches two hours ago. You crawl back to your room in North Mass, strip down to the bare essentials and climb into bed. You’re counting the hours until your 9L when the fire alarms start to blare just as your eyes close. You roll over and try to shut it out, but your UGA bangs on the door and tells you to evacuate. You roll out of bed, grab your ID and cell phone, and walk into the hallway. Students march like zombies toward the building’s exit, and you wish you could go back to sleep. When you get to the end of the hall, you see smoke everywhere.

If you’re strolling to the bathroom in the early morning hours and you spot a fire, the first step is to clarify that there’s actually a fire. Three shots of espresso and 26 hours without sleep can play some tricks on you, but trust your instincts. If it’s racing toward you and giving off hundreds of degrees of heat, it’s probably a fire. The next step is much easier said than done, but do not panic. Do whatever it takes to stay calm, whether it’s counting to 10 or thinking about that one time a baby cow licked your nose on your organic farming trip. Instead, Dartmouth has a system called C-A-R-E that could potentially solve the whole fire problem you’ve suddenly found yourself with.

• Contain the fire by closing all doors as you leave.

• Activate the nearest fire alarm.

• Report the fire — call 911.

• Evacuate or extinguish the fire.

As far as that last point goes, remember that you have to be properly trained before operating a fire extinguisher. Just ask the kids from your freshman floor who set off the fire extinguisher in the Fahey-McLane laundry room and had Safety and Security at their door later that night. If you are trained, go ahead. Just make sure you have your back to an unobstructed exit, you have contained and reported the fire and everyone else has left the area. If it takes more than 30 seconds, you should evacuate and close the door behind you.


The Sunday morning sun rises in the East at 7:15 a.m., and a small sliver of light finds its way through the window and right into your eyes. You stumble to the gender-neutral bathroom on your floor and proceed to vomit up the mozzarella sticks you ate at LNC the night before. Your forehead is hot to the touch, your head feels like its being hammered at from the inside and it hurts to swallow your own saliva. You were determined to go to the library this morning as retribution for last night’s raging, but your newfound illness has left you to linger in your bed and scroll your Facebook newsfeed and view your 12 Snapchat stories.

Hours pass before you realize that it’s noon, you haven’t eaten and you still feel like death is imminent. A few Google searches later and you find yourself on WebMD. It’s not long before you’ve diagnosed yourself with mono, strep throat, the Black Plague, pregnancy and about 20 random diseases. Suddenly, all possible sources of infection come rushing into your brain. Was it the plastic ball that rolled on a dirty floor before being put into a cup you drank from? The sneeze guards in FoCo are nice, but what about those kids who breathe a little too closely to the food? You touched the computer keyboards on FFB while eating a muffin, surely the bacteria found their way into your body. You call your mom immediately, and she proceeds to tell you about the global plague that’s all over CNN. She has stricken fear into your heart, and you immediately call Safety and Security to drive you to Dick’s House.

Dick’s House, however, will not be your saving grace. If your mom is right and the disease is serious and infectious, you’ll be express shipped over to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Like something out of a dystopian young adult novel, there’s a quarantine unit where those exposed to serious illnesses are contained until they can be treated.

In general, in order to prevent the spread of diseases, wash hands regularly, avoid close contact with others when an illness is “in season,” avoid touching your face, drink lots of water and get lots of sleep and pay attention to blitz for updates on campus diseases.


You’re exhausted. It’s been a long night. The Choates seem so far away, their fluorescent glow barely visible above the snowbank. You’ve left Phi Delt. You’ve got this. But you’re also so, so toasty in your winter gear. It’s time for a break. And it’s time to make snow angels. As you wave your arms, you realize something’s wrong. You’re stuck. You’re cold. You’ve fallen and you can’t get up. But it seems smart to stay put for a while. All of a sudden, your extremities start tingling a little too much.

From that one EMS class you accidentally walked in on, you know that if it’s frostbite you should cover your exposed fingertips and make sure not to rub them. If you’re also feeling light headed, uncontrollably shivering and not quite remembering how you got into the snowbank, make sure you seek medical attention immediately. Hypothermia is a serious medical issue. You’ll need to high-tail it to the nearest building, wrap yourself in any blankets you can find, get a friend to sprint to KAF for their hottest water (let’s be real, it’s always scalding) and make it to Dick’s House for some much needed R and R.


You’ve got Sade playing in the background. The playlist tells you that Marvin Gaye, Ginuwine, Justin Timberlake and Usher are up next. The air freshener is out, the room is tidied up. You’re pacing. You’re afraid your nerves are getting to you. You’re nervous. You’re shaking. Wait, the room is shaking. The texts come flying in — is this happening? Is this real life? Is this an earthquake in Hanover? Yes, it is.

The shakes become more violent, and you cling to your bed. You can’t reach your phone to call your friend from California. Your friend from California would have told you to stay away from windows and large shelves. To protect yourself, seek refuge under a table. If you can’t fit under your dorm’s desk, rest against a wall and cover your head. Wait until the shaking stops, and look for messages from College officials. They’ll tell you when it’s okay to flitz your sweetheart to reschedule.

For more information on how to handle any form of disaster at Dartmouth, visit the Dartmouth Emergency Preparedness website.