I was perusing Teqniqal's blog when I stumbled across this article he wrote on teaching safety to students. In particular, this section caught my eye.
I've never thought about doing this before, but it makes complete sense. In October I worked a haunted house where the first night it was open to the public, we had the alarms go off. A couple nights earlier we had gone through a drill with test patrons and event staff, so we knew what to do. Still, it was a mess. Radios didn't work. Who was going to call the fire department? Does the system in this 80-year old school actually notify the fire department upon being tripped? Then we were faced with the most difficult obstacle -- the real patrons thought the alarm buzzers were part of the show, and in a building not equipped with strobes, it took convincing to get patrons evacuated. After that, we had to split up and determine how the alarm was tripped. In doing so, we were not well-equipped enough to differentiate between ordinary volunteers for the haunted house and the "real" event staff who were cleared for access to the building in the event of an emergency to determine the nature of the alarm. Once the fire department showed up, what were we going to do next?You can expand your Fire & Emergency Training to have fire exit drills in the middle of show rehearsals. Start out easy and get them to understand that getting out of the building is a priority, then later you can 'complicate' their decision making by making them find and take a different route by declaring the 'obvious' or 'regular' route as "not available." People tend to exit buildings the same way they came in. You have to challenge them to find and know alternate routes should their typical or normal one be blocked.
Mind you, we were equipped well-enough staff-wise. We had plenty of event staff members for the building, fire extinguishers distributed all over, two-way radio communications, paramedics on site for the entirety of the event each night, and a Fire Watch team wearing fluorescent orange vests whose sole purpose was to spread out and monitor the entire building and supervise the event the entire evening.
With all of that in place, the first real alarm showed us all of our inadequacies. The radio communications were awful. The name tags didn't distinguish between event staff in charge (except for Fire Watch members) of securing the building versus who were volunteers just there for the night as spooks wearing costumes. The real curve ball was that we never anticipated that people would hear the alarm system and not realize that it wasn't part of the haunt, but a legitimate fire alarm.
Then what we weren't prepared for was when the system tripped two times in one night. The first time, which the fire department showed up for, was a false alarm given by a faulty pull station. "A freak accident," the fire marshal called it. Then when it happened again, some people were so tired of it, including the 400 patrons waiting in line, and 200 progressing through the haunt, that people didn't want to leave because the first time was a false alarm. Turned out, the second time we found out the hard way the smoke detectors in the building were still active in the building and our fog machines had set them off. Our first fire drill wasn't remotely long enough to have built up enough fog to set the alarms off.
I even know people who work in office buildings who are instructed to not leave their cubicles during fire alarms unless they smell smoke.
So with all of that in mind, how do you create a realistic enough fire drill, and how do you carry it out effectively enough that it actually provides the necessary education for your staff members, students, or whomever else you are working with? Do you go so far as to ask the fire department to show up to a drill, a drill that you have not notified anyone on your staff is going to take place?