Disaster preparedness does not have to be daunting. There are simple, common sense things which you can do every day to prepare yourself for an emergency situation. One of these is knowing where your nearest exit is located. The first thing I do whenever I enter any building is to look and see if there is an emergency evacuation plan in place. Most public buildings have them displayed on walls. Not only will these plans give you the layout of the floor where you are at, but they will also show you important exits and special evacuation protocols. If they are good, they will also show you the location of fire extinguishers, AED and first aid kits, and what numbers to call in case of an emergency. In America we are accustomed to calling 911 for emergencies, but some buildings have their own security or fire prevention departments, who know their buildings better than the first responders who might show up and are unfamiliar with the building in question. Always check and see who you should contact during an emergency, and when in doubt, always call 911.
I cannot stress enough the importance of knowing where your nearest emergency exit is located. I believe it is an essential component of Situational Awareness, which is a concept that we advocate very strongly here on Survive Anything. Know your surroundings, know what is going on, know your strength and weaknesses, and keep alert.
So, why this obsession with emergency exits? In my line of work I’ve taught community disaster education classes to thousands of people, and I’ve done a lot of research on how people respond during an emergency. One thing that always came up was how people evacuate during an emergency: They tend to want to exit the same way they came in, and this creates a dangerous “bottleneck” effect where too many people try to evacuate from the same exit. People get stuck, and they trample each other to death or are seriously injured trying to push through an opening that is inadequate for a mass evacuation. This natural tendency to want to get out the same way we came in is something that we can all actively work on, and is part of the Easy Preparedness concept.
A lot of people have died in night club fires, or other disasters because they did not have a personal evacuation plan in place when they entered a building. Had they studied the evacuation plans, or at least casually glanced to see where the nearest exit signs were, they might have survived and avoided the dreaded bottleneck. Sometimes the nearest exit to your location could be beside you, behind you, in front of you, and not necessarily the same way you came in. Please keep that in mind the next time you walk into an unfamiliar building, or even a familiar building: Know your exits!
For further information and case examples, please explore:
The National Fire Protection Association webpage dedicated to nightclubs and other assembly occupancies.