The Do 1 Thing site won the Awareness to Action category of FEMA’s 2014 Individual and Community Preparedness Awards. It’s a 12-month program of small steps that you can take to increase your personal and household preparedness. Throughout 2015, DEM will feature Do 1 Thing items during our weekly blog post series of One Thing Wednesdays. Check back here every week for a new preparedness activity or tip!
As we move into spring and its potential for severe storms, March’s theme is sheltering. Different hazards call for different protective actions. Today, we’re looking at a related issue: how to get out of your current location if it becomes unsafe.
Near the beginning of the film Ronin, veteran spy Sam (Robert de Niro) advises mercenary broker Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), “I never walk into a place I don’t know how to walk out of.” Here at DEM, we’re fans of Ronin on its own merits – it’s a smart action-espionage film that doesn’t spend too much time explaining itself, and it has a top-notch cast – but Sam’s rule is more widely applicable to everyone’s personal preparedness.
Studies of human behavior in evacuations – for example, fire alarms – have found that most visitors to a building will exit using the same door through which they entered, even if another emergency exit is closer and less obstructed. Some researchers attribute this to the way our minds build and maintain maps of our surroundings. The “known” exit takes precedence over the “unknown” one, even if conditions may make the “known” exit less safe. In an emergency, this can lead to crowding at a building’s public exits, which become evacuation choke points.
So how do we apply Sam’s advice to our own lives? Simple mindfulness of our surroundings goes a long way. Fire and building codes require public structures to have clearly-marked exit signs. Many places also post emergency maps (like the one shown to the right) which may show not only exits, but other resources like fire extinguishers and first aid supplies. When you’re out in the community, pay attention to these signs and maps. The act of consciously noting your exits will put them on your mental map of your surroundings, making you more likely to remember them if you need them.
Coming back to March’s Do 1 Thing theme of sheltering, the same applies to storm shelters and other safe locations. Many public buildings will have storm shelter or tornado shelter signs posted (in downtown Lexington, we identified and marked a number of shelters prior to the 2010 World Equestrian Games festivities – look for them as you’re walking around this spring!). A little mindfulness can go a long way!