Today, my company held its annual scheduled fire drill. I somehow missed last year's (maybe I was out of town, I don't recall) so this was my first experience of it. Notices have been posted everywhere for the last few weeks, giving the exact date and time, so it was no surprise. So when the buzzer went off, I was expecting it, so I jumped up, ready to join the orderly exodus out the door.
That's not quite true: one of my neighbors got up -- but she was going to a nearby table for an informal meeting with a couple of other workers. I stood at my desk, a bit confused. The PA system (or tannoy, for you Brits) continued blaring an announcement, but still no one budged. So I sat down: the designated emergency exit was one of those alarm-wired doors, and I was NOT about to trigger it unnecessarily, even though I was pretty sure that the alarm had been turned off for the occasion.
My neighbor returned, and so I asked her what was up: wasn't that the fire alarm and the fire drill? Oh yes, she said, but everyone was too busy to pay attention until they really had to. I stood around feeling awkward.
A few minutes later, the floor's designated emergency co-ordinator stepped over to the emergency exit, wearing a hard hat and carrying one of those small plastic megaphones you see at Japanese baseball games (which he used to announce that everyone should head for the exits and the designated gathering point. NOW everybody got up from their desks headed for the fire exit.
As we headed down the street to the designated gathering point outside of the main building, I talked with my Japanese co-worker about the slow response: to me, a fire drill is a fire drill, or so I was taught, and when the bell rang you were supposed to go out the door immediately, no questions, as a training for what do during a real emergency. It kind of misses the point otherwise.
We walked past the city fire engines brought in for the occasion the lawn behind the main building behind the flags representing our sections. I noticed a whiteboard set up where the hard-hatted co-ordinators were writing times next to section numbers I assume these were the times that each section had finished arriving, meaning apparently that speed did count. We sat down on the grass to watch a couple of talks and some fire extinguisher demonstrations, and then let go.
Some people stayed to check out the city's portable earthquake demonstration trailer, where people could stand in a mock-up of a kitchen and get shaken around by a simulated Richter 8 quake. I could hear the women squealing in terror as we walked past on the way back to our desks.