We have heard the story of the announcements in the World Trade Center South Tower advising building occupants to return to their offices. Many did so and sealed their doom. This fact has colored much of the attitude and response of employees to efforts by safety officials to revamp fire drills and building evacuations. Many employees have made plain their intent to leave on their own should an event occur. People scoff at public address announcements — if they remain long enough to even hear them.
The August earthquake felt in much of the mid-Atlantic area is a perfect example. I estimate 75 percent of the building self-evacuated before any announcement over the public address system.
As a former regional safety/security officer and floor warden, I can appreciate the protocol that dictates listening to announcements and directions. If there were a hazardous situation on one side of the building — caused by a natural event or by a person with ill intent — thousands of people could come flooding out of that building exit into the very danger they were seeking to avoid.
That is why it is important to wait for instructions. But I am afraid that battle is lost.
Goldstein is space management specialist for the Health and Human Services Department Office of Inspector General Office of Management and Policy, New York.