How to Run a Fire Drill

Posted by on Sep 25, 2013 in Creativity, Kaizen-Muse | 2 comments

How to Run a Fire Drill

We had a fire drill in the office today. It seems that people are using the word “fire drill” these days to refer to an event very different than the ones I remember when I was in school. Back then, it was a total surprise and there was a real sense of urgency because, for all we knew, the school really was on fire. Today, these things are planned, which seems to defeat the purpose entirely.

The other thing that surprised me today (“shocked” might be a better word) is that we were all told to use the same stairwell. I’m on the fourth–the top of our building–and the stairwell in question is clear across the building AND loops back around. I travel the longest distance to those stairs, and there’s a perfectly good stairwell 30ft from my desk–but it leads to the parking lot on the far side of the building, and we’re told they don’t want us walking around to the larger lot. Well, that’s great, but it took me at least 2-3 times as long to get out of the building via that stairwell, which 80% of the building was using, than it would have to be safe and outside via the closer one.

My sense of self-preservation tells me that plan is not in my best interest in a real emergency. I went with it for today because I knew it was a drill, but there seems to be a fundamental loss of priority here, along with a failure of creativity. If the lot on my side of the building is too close, there’s a convenient sidewalk that can take us farther up the street. If they’re worried about accounting for everyone (and if they are, there was no evidence of it today), it would be simple to devise a system where the folks on one side gather and know who to look for, and vice versa. In our age of iPhones and text messages, it would be easy to inform both groups when it’s safe to go back in the building–if that ever happens. Much easier than trying to get too many people down one stairwell before the smoke knocks them out.

The whole thing got me thinking about administrivia and how we get our priorities so mixed up that we can’t see straight anymore. The fire drill problem is obvious to me, but I’m not the one making the plan. Getting caught up in the planning details can make it tough for us to remember why we’re planning in the first place, and lead us on a circuitous route to our destinations. Too much smoke in the air makes the details fuzzy, and we can get trapped there until we can’t breathe.

Try a creative fire drill today. Go outside and get some fresh air. Take a walk. Play the piano or sing and dance along with the radio for a while. Focus on something else for a few hours, even if it’s doing your grocery shopping, and then come back with a fresh look. Ask yourself what your fire is, where it is, and what door you’re aiming for, and make sure that’s the one your plans reflect. Clear out as much smoke as you can and get back to the basics.

Your project will thank you for it.


  1. I just lost a lengthy comment because, according to the server, I failed to enter a legal e-mail address. Except, I used the same e-mail address as always, and clicked it when it showed up as a choice.

    I don’t want to type all that again. The main point was: you might ask management what they plan to tell the families of the 4th-floor denizens, as well as any mobility-challenged people in the building, if their unworkable plan results in tragedy in a real fire.

    • I could…but that isn’t really the point of the post. :)

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