The following is from Hal Newman's Big Medicine Web site:
Research identifies risk factors that affected World Trade Center evacuation [Jan 27 New York NY]--Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health have released findings identifying factors that affected evacuation from the World Trade Center (WTC) Towers on September 11. A research methodology known as participatory action research (PAR) was used to identify individual, organizational, and structural (environmental) barriers to safe and rapid evacuation.
Among the findings that should be of particular interest to Enterprise Risk Management/Business Continuity practitioners/
WTC evaluation initiation was delayed by lack of awareness and experience in evacuation procedures; making phone calls; seeking out co-workers; and personal concerns about one's own ability (e.g. health and stamina) to descend multiple flights of stairs.
Workers also delayed their evacuation because they were waiting for their supervisor's permission to leave.
The length of time for the entire evacuation process was lengthened by inappropriate footwear; confusion about where the staircases were located and where they terminated; and periodic congestion on stairs.
Injuries were associated most often with physical disabilities (i.e., those with physical disabilities were more likely to be injured during the evacuation process).
Bottom line, many of the "risk factors" identified in the report could have been avoided or mitigated by a decent, exercised risk management program (note that is "program," not "one-shot project").
That is a two-prong problem that needs a two-prong response.
First, people need to know where to find the primary and alternate exits. Maps need to be posted in multiple sites where people congregate and maps need to be given to each new hire as part of the orientation/indoctrination package.
Illuminated paths to exits a la' theatre and aircraft exit route lighting. Paths - both primary and alternate - need to be regularly reviewed with all personnel
Making phone calls
There's not much that can be done with this situation short of having a Fire Warden yank the phone out of the wall. I don't think education or policies and procedures will have an effect on such people. I can understand someone wanting to call home, especially in the case of September 11, but the first priority is to try and stay alive, not to say good-byes.
Seeking out co-workers; and personal concerns about one's own ability (e.g. health and stamina) to descend multiple flights of stairs
In two words: Buddy Teams.
Buddy teams are groups of 5 to 10 people who work and socialize together. They account for each other and provide assistance to each other as necessary. Because they work closely together, they usually are aware of both permanent and temporary disabilities. Pregnancy falls into the latter category, as does a sprained ankle.
Waiting for their supervisor's permission to leave
This should never - repeat, never - happen.
This, like the exit maps, should be part of new hire orientation and, like exit maps, should be reinforced on a regular, e.g., quarterly or more frequent, basis. If the alarm sounds, move!
The only acceptable delay is to either (a) call a central number alerting someone of the danger (e.g., a fire in the caller's work area) or (b) initiating the alarm on the way to the exit.
I suspect this applies primarily to the ladies who favor high heels.
Ladies, if you don't want to keep a pair of walking shoes handy, then be prepared to sacrifice your stockings; carry your shoes and exit barefoot. Barefoot exits are Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for aircraft and watercraft evacuations; it should be SOP for any evacuation where the footwear would slow down the exiting process.
Confusion about where the staircases were located and where they terminated
See Lack of awareness, above.
Periodic congestion on stairs
In the case of the World Trade Center towers, I doubt congestion could be prevented. Too many people, too many floors, too few exit paths.
The way to mitigate congestion is to train people to evacuate in stages. Impacted floor(s) first followed, I suggest, by higher floors (especially in a fire situation).
There also was talk of keeping elevators operational, but blocking them on the impacted floor and one floor above and one floor below the impacted floor. This requires some engineering effort to arrange for positive pressure in the elevator shaft(s).
Most of the mitigating measures seem like a "no-brainer" to this practitioner, and certainly I am not the first to consider them.
So why were people ill prepared?
Perhaps no one listened to the planners.
Besides, who ever thought an airplane would crash into the building. That just never happens, except it does (Empire State Building, 1945) and it did.
John Glenn, MBCI
Enterprise Risk Management/Business Continuity
Planner @ JohnGlennMBCI.com