On mornings when I can get out of the house a little early, I like to stop at the shopping mall and walk the corridors. I’m not only able to get some exercise, but can use the occasion to relax my mind before embarking on the day’s important work of trying to make the world a safer place from fire. Before I leave the mall I like to reward myself with a cup of gourmet coffee. But one day, my trip to the food court to order my vanilla cappuccino with almond milk and one sugar, was interrupted by a jarring sound–the mall’s fire alarm system. My mild irritation at having my coffee ritual interrupted soon gave way to consternation. Mall patrons seemed unaffected by the intermittent beeping of the alarm system so loud that the sound bounced off the corridor walls. They didn’t seem to notice the flashing of the strobe lights either. Nobody was moving, not the people in the food court or the patrons of the restaurants open at that hour serving breakfast.
Mall walkers didn’t break their stride. As I made my way toward an exit, a mall security employee rushed passed shouting to everyone to stay where they were and that it was a false alarm. It’s a good thing it wasn’t a real emergency. I’d hate to consider the outcome.
Restaurants, bars, and food courts are places where we like to relax, unwind, and treat ourselves to good food and drink, but let’s not get so relaxed that we don’t respond when we’re warned of an emergency. The assembly occupancy safety tips page on the NFPA website advises us to react immediately if the alarm sounds and to get out and stay out and not return under any circumstances. The Safety in Places of Public Assembly safety tip sheet offers a list of recommendations for safeguarding yourself before entering a building, after you’ve entered a building and what to do in an emergency.