Don’t Get Trapped in Your Office Building

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While I was at the office yesterday, our building had a power outage.  It got eerily dark for a few seconds, then generator power kicked in and a few lights turned on.  The city was having rolling blackouts due to heavy demands on the power grid from the cold weather.  Management announced anyone who wanted to leave can do so.  This is when things got interesting.

I grabbed my laptop and immediately left.  There were already a number of people waiting at the elevator.  Only one elevator out of six was working.  Coming from the 20th floor, a few of us decided to walk down the stairs.  Down we trudged with our laptop cases and backpacks.  We expected to keep going down until we got to the parking lots on the lower floors.  We were mistaken.  The stairwell ended in the 9th floor, and that floor was locked.  Back up the stairs we went, looking for a door out.  Tried to use the cell phone to find out if there was another stairwell leading down but no one picked up over in Building Management.  We found an unlocked door on the 12th floor and got out; wherein we joined a throng of people already waiting for the one elevator.  By the time I got in, it was so packed I feared the elevator might stall.   I found out on the news later that the city had a lot of 911 calls of people being stuck in elevators.  It took me about a half an hour to get out of the building.

I realize even if you are one of the first to leave there are still lots of others trying to leave at the same time.  People were being orderly this time, and no one was in a panic.  It would have been a lot worse if it was a dire emergency.  Luckily, it was only a mini-emergency this time, but I resolved to fix this “hole” in my prepping efforts:

1.  Visit the Building Manager’s office to obtain a layout of where the stairwells are located and where they lead, then plan a route to get to the parking lot or out of the building.

2.  Stock my desk with bottled water and non perishable food in case I get stuck there.

3.  Keep a pair of comfortable shoes in my cubicle, just in case I have to run down the stairs or have to walk home.

4.  Assemble a small First Aid kit for my desk just in case.

5.  Plan a walking route in case the parking lot is inaccessible and I have to walk home.

Do you work in a high rise?  If you do, please consider making plans on how to leave in a hurry.

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18 thoughts on “Don’t Get Trapped in Your Office Building

  1. Wow. Scary. That sounds like a fire/safety concern that your stairs didn’t open to the outside! I work on the 15th floor. We have drills often so we’re familiar with the stair exits. Also, there are a few interior rooms that are “fortified”. Unfortunately, I live an hour from work, so I’d be stuck if I did get outside in a real emergency. I already do stock food at my desk – I get hungry often 😉 But, I do need to think about what I’d do once outside.

    • Yes, it was scary to find out the stairwells don’t lead out. I did have some food, but I ate through it and had not re-stocked recently :) . Getting home would be another challenge, if I had to walk home.

  2. Back in the mid-90’s I was a security manager for a high rise office building. Stairwell doors are often locked in office buildings for security reasons, however in the event of a fire alarm they should automatically unlock. Some buildings may also be able to unlock these doors for just the type of scenario that you went through. I would ask about this, along with finding out the building’s emergency plans.

    As Becky mentioned, you should probably be having drills in your building. Building management should work on developing that if they do not, along with establishing “floor wardens” – volunteers who help evacuate people in the event of an emergency.

    Depending on the building’s security, if you have guards on site, it also never hurts to make friends with them as you can generally find out some good information from them as well, sometimes above and beyond what is released officially. However I’m biased in that regard obviously.

    One final note for your office preps – get a blanket, inflatable pillow and a change of clothes. You may be stuck there for a while.

    • The building has fire drills, but, the drill involves everyone on the floors standing in the hallway, never going down the stairwell let alone leaving the building. Not much of a drill! Thanks for the good ideas.

  3. I agree with Becky, talk about scary! I’m glad you made it out and home in one piece.

  4. If you don’t have one you should consider making a “Get Home Bag”. It should have all the things you mentioned, plus what ever else may come in handy if you can’t use you car or public transit for some reason.

    • Good idea. I have a few supplies in my car, but not a complete get home bag. Another project!

  5. Don’t forget your flashlight!

    I keep a small compass on my key chain. It’s not super accurate, but it’s accurate enough to tell a 911 operator where I’m at in a building, northeast corner of the 6th floor or whatever.

    A high rise where the stairwell stops way above ground level? Weird. I guess I don’t see things like that because I live in earthquake country. That would never fly here. If you see a maintenance guy (or gal) around I’d ask them what they would do.

    • It is weird, I am just surprised no one seemed to bothered about it when I mentioned it at work the next day. Flashlight and compass–both good additions to the desk emergency kit. Thanks!

  6. You were very fortunate to find this out before your life depended on it!!
    I’ve never heard of separate stairwells in a highrise before.
    You shouldn’t wait for a formal drill to happen….
    I’d find and use the stairways ASAP and regularly use them from now on…. have the routes out of the building memorized. I think you should also smuggle a prybar into work and keep it in your desk?

    • Not a bad idea, I’ll need to sneak the prybar into my desk. Can’t imagine how many eyebrows that would raise :)

  7. It has always boggled my mind that people that live or work in high buildings never have rope. I see them hanging outside cringing from the fire gaining confidence to jump into an inflated air bag. Or jumping regardless onto the hard concrete to avoid the brutal burning sans twin towers.

    Simple knowledge…..everyone should know how to tie a “Swiss seat” or better yet have a harness [or like myself have a Wilderness belt….(made in America)…overkill I know]. With a bit of practice you could smash a window , secure a rope and repel down this building in no time. The bonus is that many people could come after you. I have belayed and climbed many great heights including the Lions Gate Bridge with a fifty pound backpack….not that that is so legal but the fact remains that with a little courage and training one could be down that building in no time.

    In the event of a fire – panic would ensue and people would not be as you know them. Rope plus 20 feet past anchor point to ground, window smasher , anchor point , knot knowledge , gloves……essential , and a bit of repelling practice. Seems like a better compromise to sucking smoke in a panic fueled trample prone stairwell.

    Plus if the floors below are compromised you would have no choice.

  8. Breaching tools.

    Every Condo dweller should have

    a) a sledgehammer with a weight they can handle

    b) an axe with a weight they can handle

    c)a large pry (I call them lever bars) …they are 5 feet long and heavy

    d)a ready fulcrum (piece of wood 4″x4″ 1 foot long)

    e)A solid chunk of long 1-2 foot steel. Half inch round.

  9. I used to keep a GHB in my office in NYC in a file cabinet drawer. I was on the 11th floor of a 30+ floor building. However, I knew full well that if I needed to shelter in the building, I could do so for a two to three days with my bag while I instituted a plan to get home. I hate mentioning posts I have written on other peoples blogs, but I wrote a post about sheltering in at your place of work some time ago. It goes hand in hand with the post I wrote about being a refugee in the city if the SHTF in any way. We love the city or we would leave. It is a great place to be. You had the tactical advantage in experiencing something that others have not or may have not yet, so now you can plan around it.

    I would love to hear what plans you are able to make to this regard? i.e. lock picking to open the door on the 9th floor so that you can get though to the street and to safety, etc. As you have found out it is not a perfect scenario, one person above mentioned all egress areas are to be open in the event of an emergency. Had this been something worse, you may not have been able to get out at all…

  10. If you have an office and you have a filing cabinet you can dedicate a drawer to your GHB/other supplies such as a first aid kit and walking shoes. Other supplies could include things you might need if stuck at work. I know people who’ve spent more than one night at the office due to ice storms. At least ice storms are predictable.

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