How fire drills can save your life, and why you can’t do them

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How fire drills can save your life, and why you can’t do them

One of the mistakes frequently made in all areas of selection is to be too specific in the selection criteria. Thus, we often hear computer programmers complaining that someone is looking for a programmer who has already done a specific application, rather than a skilled programmer who can perform a wide array of tasks. Someone once said that they were sure that at some point someone had refused to hire a limo driver because they had only driven blue limos, while the limo that needed to be driven was black!

It is quite common to see people make the same mistake when looking at protective measures. That is to say we will get a call on how to deal with some particular threat du jour, i.e. “How do we get someone out of the building in case of a bomb?” when they should really be asking more basic questions, such as “How do we get everyone safely out of the building?”

The fact is, if you are protected from fire and natural disasters, you will be protected from most everything else, too. Fire is a good place to start, because if you can survive a fire, you can survive almost everything. If your building burns down and you can start up elsewhere, you can survive most other disasters, both natural and unnatural. In terms of people, if you can evacuate your building when there is a fire, you can evacuate it in a host of other situations, too. If your people regularly do full fire drills, they are well on their way to safety. That’s the good news.

Now the bad news: Unless you own your own building, you probably can’t do a fire drill. For a start, to do the fire drill, you will probably have to go into common areas like stairwells, which are not leased by you. This means that the building owner faces liability for anything that happens to your people, and it is unlikely that they or their insurance company will be willing to run that risk.

And if you make it to the street you are now congregating on city property, which transfers the liability to the local government, which they don’t want, and which you probably can’t do without a license – a license which, in all probability, the municipality’s insurance company won’t want issued.

How do you deal with the conflict between bureaucracy and safety, between the liability faced if you practice, and the liability you will face after the fact if you could have been prepared, but weren’t?

•            Recognize that potential disasters, whether natural disasters or man- made, have common elements which need to be dealt with in order to prevent the potential disaster from becoming an actual disaster. If you are prepared to safely evacuate your office in case of an electrical fire, you are prepared to evacuate in case of an earthquake or an explosion or a criminal act.

•            Recognize that solutions to problems, particularly solutions to problems that happen rarely, don’t plan themselves. Make sure someone has given thought to a variety of bad things that might happen, and put together plans for dealing with them.

•            Recognize that plans won’t cover factors that you have not considered, many of which will show up only in testing – or real life – and that it is better to refine a plan through testing than to have it fail needlessly.

•            Even the best plan will fail if people haven’t practiced implementing the plan. Whatever plans you have developed must be practiced and evaluated on a regular basis, both to take into account any changes in your situation, and to keep skills at an adequate level.

•            Support your staff in their efforts to overcome the inertia and bureaucracy that will be unique to your particular building owner, municipality, involved insurance providers, and perhaps even to you.

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