Monday, November 4, 2013

Institutional Blindness

Some things are too important to leave to experts

I worked for two years at a large plant in Southeast Michigan that included metal, paint and general assembly operations.  This was during a time when many plants were being closed and tensions were extremely high.  It was common to see both management and labor walking around with this book.


There are two kinds of evacuations.  One is the kind that you schedule and announce everyday for a week in advance.  The other kind is unplanned.

The first evacuation drill I experienced there took us outside and immediately turned us right...into an active fork-truck area.  These were monstrously large fork-trucks.   Pedestrians were forbidden in the area.  Except during the evacuation drill.  The yard had been idled for the duration of the drill.  I have little faith that would occur during a "real" evacuation.

After leaving the fork-truck area we had to cross an active rail spur.

Then we had to walk in front of an active trucking dock.  This is the portion of the loading dock where semi tractor-trailers back up to the dock.  Incoming truck drivers would be unaware of an unplanned evacuation.  Pedestrians were forbidden in the area.  Except during the evacuation drill.

The evacuation route then walked us past a tank farm that included flammable liquids and compressed gasses.

Finally it led down a ramp to a sub-grade "sump".  The sump was bounded by a 30 degree blacktopped slope and a 10 foot high, razor wire topped, chain link fence to the west.  The fence had a hedge on the other side of it to serve as a visual barrier to the surrounding businesses.  The sump was bounded by the plant on the north and east sides.  The walls of the plant were approximately 65 feet high.  On the south, the sump was bounded by the ramp that we had walked into it on.

Worst case scenarios

If the evacuation were due to an active shooter in the plant, there would be about 400 people packed in the bottom of a 75 foot by 150 foot  sump with little means for egress.  The shooter moving to the roof or the top of the ramp would be a problem.  There would be very high mortality.  Pretty much the same outcome if there were a fire in the tank farm or paint shop spewed a cloud of toxic fumes into the sump.

It was a death trap.

Objections raised with the safety department were answered with, "Corporate approved it."  It was clear that the safety director was more interested in checking-off-the-box than in keeping me safe.

Packing our own parachutes

I then had a heartfelt discussion with three of my more worldly co-workers.

Tom competed in IDPA (International Defense Pistol Association) events.

Andy was the one of the calmest and most serene men I know.  He found joy and solace in shooting coyotes at long range.

Chuck was just an all-round shooter.

They told me that they had a plan.  In the event of a real evacuation, they planned to turn left, not right, as they left the building  They were going to walk out to their vehicles and drive home.  Once home, they were going to call the boss and tell him they were OK.  "Even if it is a fire," Tom said, "how do we know it was not set by a 'shooter'?"

I thought that was an OUTSTANDING plan.


That plant is no longer in operation.

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