In Case of Emergency

by Marianne Richmond on September 7, 2005

As the finger pointing continues over Hurricane Katrina along with the cries for leadership a thought occured to me while listening to the Head of my youngest son’s school today welcome two families from New Orleans who had moved in with relatives here in St. Louis and had enrolled their children in school. The school had an emergency phone number and a plan developed after September 11th. I wondered how many parents sitting in the room knew what that number was or had it written down….on easily accessible, old fashioned paper. The school had sent it to us numerous times along with "the plan". But like the exit maps on the back of hotel doors and the location of emergency exits on airplanes, in movie theaters, or a fire escape plan from our own homes , it wasn’t  top of mind enough to be of much use in case of an emergency.  And the finger pointing and calls for leadership should really begin with ourselves.

Back in 1980, some of you may recall there was a fire in the MGM Grand Hotel early one morning. Eighty four people died and 675 people were injured. There were no sprinkler system in the hotel, there was complete chaos as people awoke to discover the inferno around them; they jumped to their deaths, doors locked preventing escape.

It was an unimaginable horror. I know this, not because I was there
but because in a presentation seminar several years later when we were
asked to write and deliver a short, persuasive speech about a memorable
event in our lives, one of my co-workers spoke about the need to know
where the emergency exits were in hotels and to make understanding an
escape path part of your check-in process. He had been in the MGM Grand
that morning and lived to tell. I can’t remember what I spoke about or
what anyone else said…actually I can’t even remember who else was
there. But for many years after that…and hotel check-ins were a
weekly non-event in those days, I  took a few minutes to read the back
of the door.  I am writing this as a reminder to myself as well as
you….talk to your kids about an escape plan from your house; read
those hotel doors, listen during the flight attendant’s monologue,
write down the emergency phone numbers. Point your fingers at the
solutions. Leadership, like everything else, begins at home.




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