In this post we’re going to try and analyse the two most critical information processes during emergencies: becoming aware of the hazard and successfully notifying persons in danger.
The idea is to represent in a graphic fashion the different communication streams and analyse the strengths and weaknesses of each setup. We’ve prepared four diagrams, have a look:
Figure 1. Communication paths in four scenarios
First, let’s analyse the most basic situation, depicted in diagram A: there’s no automatic detection or role allocation. This has been the story of our species up until recently. Nowadays this situation is still the most prevalent one in our daily lives (e.g. people on the street, or on a park or on the road for example.) If there’s an emergency the first person aware of it -and willing to raise the alarm- would inform the other occupants in the vicinity who would echo the message, spreading it throughout the premises. A number of weaknesses are evident in this setup:
- First Able Person (FAP) failing to identify and react fast enough to the emergency (e.g. through bystander apathy)
- FAP attempting to manage the emergency prior to raising the alarm
- Other occupants not responding to the FAP message
- Other occupants failing to spread the alarm
- Alarm not reaching all occupants in danger (e.g. people with their headphones on, disabled persons, occupants too far away to hear the alarm or not understanding English)
However, there is one important strengths of this model: so long as the site occupants know that there are no formal systems in place to deal with emergencies, you can expect them to have a higher degree of alertness and willingness to collaborate in making the area safe. The above-mentioned bystander apathy will probably be less important than in other scenarios. We’ve represented this by drawing a solid feedback loop at the occupants’ level.
Add a bit of technology…
The second diagram (B) shows a setup where the FAP has access to an alarm system, e.g. through a fire break-glass button. Whilst this is very effective in spreading the alarm site-wide, it has the problem of false alarms. Unfortunately we’ve all been in situations where a false fire alarm has been triggered. Still, people know how they should react but, will they do so? You can read here how people reacted in this massive international airport when the fire alarm was triggered (spoiler: nothing happened).
You can also add a fire detection system (diagram C) which improves reliability at the detection point but wouldn’t change occupants’ reaction to the alarm. To completely negate this non-reactive status it would be necessary that the occupants receive a duplicate alarm information (e.g. being able to smell the smoke or hearing people scream). Imagine how people would react differently to fire alarms if these included some sort of smoke smell?
and trained personnel!
To end, in diagram D we’ve added a member of the emergency response team. By doing so, we have effectively provided a duplicate channel for site occupants to become aware of the emergency on site. If you look at the diagram carefully you will notice that the two critical communication steps (becoming aware of the hazard and notifying all persons in danger) have two inputs. How each of these two notifications take place will surely vary from place to place, but it is clear that we should aim to have redundant system in our workplace (whether or not you are a user of the EVA Emergency evacuation app).
Food for thought:
To end, let me please share a thought that has me quite worried: what if we, as a SPECIES, failed to detect a hazard that put us all in danger of EXTINCTION? Have a look at this book if you want to know more (you may not sleep well for a few nights.)
Thank you for reading!