“May I have your attention, please? May I have your attention, please? We are testing the fire alarm system. Please disregard all alarms until further notice.”
Periodically, we receive this alert over the office building intercom system. Everyone looks at everyone else and wonders what we will do if the building actually catches on fire during one of the tests when we are disregarding alarms. So far it hasn’t happened, but the first time may be the last time.
Shortly thereafter, the lights begin to flash, the sirens begin to sound, and everyone sits glued to their chair, ignoring the alarms until further notice. We are not sure exactly what the further notice will be. We hope that it is not flashing lights and sirens.
The phone rings and one is barely able to hear over the sound of the sirens blasting in the background. “What’s going on?” says the voice at the other end.
“Oh, it’s nothing, they are testing the fire alarm system.” We don’t worry about it unless we smell smoke.
Then there is a rush of air as the sprinkler system is tested. Usually this makes everyone a bit more nervous. We wonder where we will dive to get out of the flood if they decide to test with actual water. We also wonder how we can be sure that water will come out instead of air in the event of a real emergency.
After reoccurring false alarms all day, we become rather complacent. Finally the intercom announces: “We have concluded the test of the fire alarm system. Please regard all alarms from now on.” Once again we are back on alert.
For some strange reason, these tests are usually followed shortly thereafter by a fire drill. A prerecorded message comes on the intercom. “A fire has been reported in the building. A fire has been reported in the building. Please move quickly to the closest exit and leave the building. Do not use the elevators.”
We always wonder why it is recorded and who, if anyone, is actually in charge. Then we realize that no one is in charge. It is a recording to create the illusion that someone is in control to prevent panic in an emergency. How reassuring as we grab our valuables and head for the exit.
About halfway down the umpteen flights of stairs, another voice comes on. “This was a false alarm. Please return to your workplace.” So, like cattle we all turn around and go back, thinking to ourselves, “Oh, yeah, that’s what they told them in the World Trade Centers, isn’t it?”
Sometimes we actually get all the way outside before the announcement. This only occurs on days when it is pouring down rain, however. It is only after we are soaking wet that we find out that the alarm system malfunctioned and it was a false alarm.
Well, better to be told to go outside when there is no emergency than to remain in the building when there is one, we think, as we crowd on the elevators trying to get back upstairs and actually get some work done in the middle of this madness.
We have fire drills, bomb drills, and weather emergency drills. We are about due for another one as it has been a while. Oh, the joys of working in a high-rise office building. If we ever have an actual emergency, we will certainly be ready.
As far as I can remember, however, we have only had one actual emergency… ever…. and that time the alarm didn’t go off.
Have you ever been in an emergency situation such as a fire or tornado?
Was there a warning or was it a surprise?