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Bob Jones University - The Accidental Exodus

Ever wonder how to orderly evacuate a building which seats over 7,000? BJU has this down rather well.

During a past BJU Artist Series program, a faulty fuse caused the fire alarm system to malfunction, requiring the evacuation of the Founder's Memorial Amphitorium. Contrary to several rumors certain to have already spread, there was never a fire, and the fire department did not make an appearance.

However, one member of the Vienna Boy's Choir (or Vienna Choir Boys, as the program states) did give an obscene gesture immediately prior to the evacuation, which was not related to the evacuation.

Here's what happened...

Jessica and I were watching the Vienna Choir Boys in concert on campus at Bob Jones University on January 29, 1998. The Founder's Memorial Auditorium--the venue for this event--seats about 7,000 when filled to capacity. In the second part of the first half of the program, the Choir performed an operetta, the name and composer of which utterly escapes me at the moment.

During one scene in the operetta, one of the boys portrays a villain who has fooled another character. While the victim walked off stage left, the villain turned toward stage left and performed the two-armed variant of the "flipping the bird" gesture which probably has never been performed in the FMA. I'm quite certain I'm not the only person who thought this gesture was potentially embarrassing, especially considering the several-thousand voice gasp and murmur immediately following. (To give the Vienna Choir Boys a benefit of a doubt, English is not their native language, and it very well may be that the gesture in question has a different meaning in Italian. But I digress.)

Shortly thereafter, when said villain was part-way through his solo, I heard what sounded like all twenty-some auditorium doors open simultaneously and about 1000 people rising to their feet behind me. I heard one usher say, "Remain calm, please," or something similar. When the doors were opened to the main lobby, we could faintly hear the sound of the fire alarms. (I've been told that the fire alarms sounded briefly earlier, but were successfully reset.)

An usher informed us that the fire alarm was sounding and that we would need to evacuate the building. Everyone started filing out, rather orderly in light of the situation. The poor soloist kept singing until the house lights came up, about 60 seconds after the audience started filing out. Shortly thereafter, a voice over the P.A. announced to everyone that the fire alarm had been triggered, and that we had to evacuate the building until the cause of the alarm was determined.

Since this all happened just minutes before intermission anyhow, it was treated like an extended intermission (about 15 minutes if I recall), and the rest of the program went on uneventfully.

The cause of the evacuation was a faulty fuse or circuit in the air conditioning system. The fire alarm mis-interpreted the power problem as a fire.

So that's it. No blaze, no chaos, no injuries. Nothing to see here folks, move along...