Do Fire Drills Work?
So, I was woken up this morning at 5:30 am in my GW dorm to the fire alarm going off. While I can’t say for sure it was a drill, no fire trucks arrived and security seemed well aware that there wasn’t a fire. Did I mention it was 5:30 in the morning?
Now I was certainly not happy to be awake, but what may have annoyed me most was the whole idea of a fire drill. Do these things really work at all? I’m very skeptical.
In some places, I see the value of fire drills. In schools or camps where teachers and counselors keep attendance and can make sure everyone is accounted for, they are very valuable, especially with younger kids who would panic and run around aimlessly.
But in a dorm of a few hundred college kids? There’s no way for anyone to do a headcount. At South Hall (the dorm I’m in), there are two staircases and everyone slowly filed through them and out the doors and moved away from the building. There wasn’t much to it. In fact, there was nothing to it.
If a real fire were to happen in the dorm, everyone would head right for those stairs, even if we hadn’t had a drill. They would probably move a lot quicker and there’d be a good bit more pushing, but a fire drill just isn’t going to reduce people’s panic if there was an actual fire. In fact, fire drills have begun desensitizing students to the alarm. Everyone now just assumes it’s a drill, slowly gets their things together and heads outside.
At Duke, many kids don’t even bother coming outside, assuming there isn’t an actual fire. If the school didn’t conduct fire drills, the opposite would be true. Students would assume it was a real fire and would head outside quickly. And since in that hypothetical world where there are no drills, it’d be a good thing the students assumed it was a real fire and moved quickly since it would be a real fire.
And this is without bringing up the fact that this was at 5:30 in the morning and everyone in their building had to get to work in just a few hours. Imagine doing this in an apartment building full of adults. People would be furious.
I tried to find a study on whether fire drills like this (not school fire drills) actually work. I came up empty though. If anyone can point me to a study or present me with a good reason that shows me the value of them, I’m all ears. But I just don’t see what this morning’s drill accomplished. In fact, I think it actually makes fires more dangerous because of the desensitization.