I’m working in NFPA’s exhibit booth at a conference for local government administrators in Charlotte, NC, helping city managers and other attendees better understand the value of home fire sprinklers.
Just after 12:30 pm, as attendees were strolling through the exhibit hall - networking and enjoying their lunches - the facility’s fire alarm began blaring - loudly. A looped recorded message told us that an emergency had been reported in the building and instructed us to walk, not run, to the closest exit.
I grabbed my laptop and backpack, and started toward the exit door, located at the end of the next aisle over. I was joined by only a handful of others, but I could see down to the other end of the expo hall, where hundreds of people were backed up in long lines — barely moving - at the escalators that would take them one flight up to street level.
My exit took me up a long staircase and dumped me on the sidewalk near the convention center’s main entrance. Several fire trucks were already outside — and after a few minutes, we were given the “all clear” message and were allowed to re-enter the building.
I’ve been in buildings that had to be evacuated a few times in my life — but never where thousands of people were gathered for a conference. And I’m struck by the fact that the majority of people in the exhibit hall automatically re-traced their steps and waited in long lines to exit the doors they had entered through rather than use the other clearly-marked exits located in the hall.
In a real emergency, I would hate to think what might have happened as hordes of people pushed to escape through a single point of egress.
It’s a good reminder about situational awareness — and not being a creature of habit when it comes to fire safety. Here’s the information you need to know about escape planning in any situation.