4 key areas to consider when Preparing for Emergencies and Managing Crowds

dont-panic-1067044_1920Emergency planning can seem daunting but allocating resources to the following will put you on the right path…

1. Leadership in an Emergency

Allocate the right person to lead in an emergency. This person may not be the CEO or the person who  leads the organisation on a day to day basis. A great chief warden needs a unique skill set. Look for someone who makes sensible decisions under extreme pressure.
Generally speaking, people who perform well, take charge and look after others in an emergency:

  • Are people with an ‘internal locus of control’. These people believe they shape their own destiny and they can influence what happens to them.
  • Find meaningful purpose in the turmoil of life.
  • Are convinced they can learn from both good and bad experiences.
  • Are very confident, perhaps so much so that they are not very well liked.

Once selected, our leader (known as the Chief Warden) needs resources. They need:

  • Response Plans
  • Key duty information (for preparation, response and recovery)
  • Training (about their role, communication options, emergency equipment, human behaviours)
  • Regular practice opportunities (desk top exercises, tactical decision games, drills)

Research tells us that adequate preparation leads to survival in emergencies.

2. Training, Drills and Exercises

The Greek lyrical poet, Archilochus said “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.”

Training, drills and exercises can be the difference in an emergency situation. It is essential to have an exercise, drill or training every 6-months. Include:

  • the Chief Warden
  • wardens, (those who may lead people from specific areas of the facility)
  • and other occupants (staff and contactors)

During an emergency don’t waste time thinking about what to do, train so reactions are automatic without relying on rational thought which may not come easily due to high stress levels.

When speaking of Rick Rescorla head of security for Morgan Stanley, a tenant in the Trade Centre holding 22 floors of tower 2 who made ongoing efforts with training and drills prior to the 2011 tragedy, Amanda Ripley writes…

Without specific training, people become bizarrely courteous in an emergency… They let those from the floors below them enter the stairwell in front of them. The end result is that the people from the upper floors – who have the farthest walk and therefore the most danger – will get out last. Training people to resist this gallantry was smart and wonderfully simple” Ripley, The Unthinkable Who survives when disaster strikes and why. P.208

Rescorla was disillusioned by the minimal efforts of the building manager, and the minimal legal requirement that occupants should descend 4 floors every 3 years. He took it on board to arrange emergency management exercises for Morgan Stanley and made sure wardens wore vests and helmets in all drills. The majority (2,687) managed to survive the evacuation. Sadly Rescorla did not survive, his commitment to preparing people however saved many lives.

3. Understand Human Behaviours in Emergencies

In an emergency the human brain journeys through the “survival arc” – Denial, Deliberation and then finally Decision. The quicker that we go through this arc, the better our chances. During the September 11 tragedy, many took as long as 6 minutes to decide to leave. Firstly they could not believe that the situation was real, and then they deliberated on the best option.

The most common human reaction to a life-or-death situation is to do nothing. Aviation industry studies show staff must yell at people for them to leave a plane at the required speed in an emergency. Another human behaviour study in emergencies found people are much more likely to react to a person telling them to go than to respond to a fire alarm. This is why trained and practiced wardens are essential to convince people that they need to move to safety.

Panic is not as common as you might think, unless people feel trapped then panic is likely, and this can lead to poor decision making and irrational choices.

People tend leave the same way they entered, give them opportunities to walk the preferred exit routes to encourage a swift evacuation.

In any emergency people will take charge, and lead others to safety. This is generally a good thing, and self-evacuation is to be encouraged.

4. Crowd Management in Emergencies

We need to be wary of the ‘faster is slower’ effect, when a large number of people are all running in the same direction, we can end up with crowd crush incidents. Given this is what we are trying to prevent, here is a list of our top 10 crowd management tips:

  1. Allow time for traffic flow
  2. Consider staggering evacuation
  3. Allow for one-way traffic
  4. Ensure adequate width of exit routes and doorways
  5. Continuously check that exit routes and doors are not cluttered, obstructed or locked
  6. Consider strategic placement of columns and barriers to spread crowds
  7. Allow for staged funnelling
  8. Ensure good communication options are available (eg. public address systems and sirens)
  9. Have trained and practiced leaders (Chief Warden and wardens) who understand their role and human behaviours
  10. Provide practice opportunities for all occupants (staff contractors and visitors)

In Summary

Start with an emergency plan and response procedures, and continuously implement and reinforce these documents with training, drills and activities. Carefully consider who are your best leaders in a crisis, and make sure they are well resourced to lead in an emergency. Understand human behaviours in a crisis and work with these behaviours as part of the plan. Implement crowd management techniques specifically designed for crowds in emergency situations.

On Board Training Emergency Management Courses

Develop your people with online and classroom training for emergency planners, Chief Wardens and Wardens. This training completed alongside regular drills will keep emergency management front of mind and improve the skills of venue/facility staff at the forefront of your emergency management team. Go to https://onboardtraining.com.au/online-courses/

Also, have a go at completing our Emergency Management Health Check and compare your score with others.

Julie McLoughlin and Lisa Price


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