Reflecting on a Real Hotel Evacuation near Washington

We visited NIST last week to discuss human behavior in fire and structural testing on steel structures (ill post later on those stories…). The agenda was quite simple arrive August 16th in the evening, attend a one day visit and return August 18th.

hotel evac

Gaithersburg hotel evacuation from start to re-entry on August 17th was approximately 30 minutes.

On August 17th at approximately 2 am I was awoken by loud banging on my door. I heard a man yelling ‘you have to get out’. I did not react to this immediately because based on my stay at various hotels in the past ive heard this often by many people banging on doors. Then, the man yelled, that a fire was located in the building (later it was discovered this was actually a gas leak next door). At this point i started to react though very slowly. The alarm sounded. A T-three signal with audio que to leave. Then I really started to react to the point where i was trying to grab everything i could in terms of passport, and wallet. It was easy finding the stairs as everything was illuminated, i wonder what i would have done had things not been so illuminated. It took me id say 30 seconds to act once i realized the situation i was in, and about 2 to 3 minutes to get out of the building (I met my research student in the hall, so i did not need to search). Outside of the building I noticed most people did not have possessions with them ( at least large purses, bags or so). However when allowed to re-enter the building I and at least 10 others were cuing to get cards to get back into the building. I chatted with the staff after the event and they informed me that the staff and the local police ran the evacuation. The seriousness of the situation was made because of a fire about a week before by a gas leak apparently. It was interesting upon reflection because normally a verbal que will push one to leave faster. I was merely conditioned to go slower. But the seriousness of the drill, verbal combined with alarm i believe pushed all people to act quickly to leave. Something to think about more combined with standard theory when my grad course People in Fires meets next spring. Of course we did visit NIST to chat about other research which is best saved for another day.

 

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