Listening to this NPR story about a study of why people don't evacuate burning buildings, I remembered a story.

Last winter, I was teaching a class near the top of one of the Motokov towers at Pankrac. The building was undergoing a major renovation at the time -- maybe it still is. Anyway, my morning class had barely started when there was an announcement over the building's public-address system (Do they still make buildings with PA systems?) asking everyone to please evacuate. I didn't catch the reason, but from the tone of the speaker's voice and the reaction of the others in the office, it sounded like a fire drill. (I love fire drills. Tornado drills are cool, too, except then you have to huddle among a bunch of smelly elementary school kids, but anyway ...)

A number of us went to the elevators. I was vaguely aware that in the event of a fire in a skyscraper, elevators are a bad idea. For better or for worse, the elevators in the Motokov building weren't working at the moment. So we headed to the stairs.

There were two stairwells on opposite corners of the building. For unclear reasons, we weren't able to use one of them, so we all started down the other. From the 24th floor or so, it took roughly 100 people 10 minutes to the ground. We were slowed down by what may have been the cause of the alarm: a water line had burst at about the 10th floor and water was gushing out of the wall and flooding a circuit box. (Rubber soles, anyone?)

Suffice it to say that had there been an actual fire, we would have been toast, even in this relatively short tower. Suffice it to say that in some circumstances, there are no contingencies. If you don't have prevention, you don't have anything.


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