Tuesday, 23 May 2006

Fire, Fire, Fire

We had our fire drill today, and the main lesson I've learned is that I should sincerely hope we don't have a real fire because if that happens to happen we're all going to die.
Instead of being at my office on the 27th floor when the drill was called out, I was "lucky" enough to be on a meeting on the 18th floor. Lucky because I had less steps to tackle on my way to the safe haven of the street down below; "lucky" because my coat was up the 27th floor, and because they disabled the elevators I had no way of retrieving it before evacuating to the street down below.
I basically followed the rest of the pack. We convened at the 18th floor's kitchen, where we had a bit of a laugh and many people had a cup of coffee (I'm not that much of a coffee drinker). I was wondering if hanging around is the normal procedure for evacuation, so I asked one of the wardens, and it turned out that it is: You're supposed to remain in your gathering place until the wardens tell you that the time to fuck off has arrived.
Eventually we did get the green light, and off to the stairs we went. There traffic flowed along the same way I remember traffic to flow during rush hour in Bangkok. It took us quite a long while - 10 minutes or so - until we got downstairs, with people joining us all the time from all the floors on the way.
Which is what I find so stupid and unrealistic about this drill: If I had even the slightest hint that a real danger existed, I wouldn't have waited in the kitchen while all the guys had their cup of coffee, and I wouldn't have stood in the stairs like an idiot waiting for others to patiently merge while sending an SMS to Jo telling her how stupid this fire drill is. No, I would have barged my way to the stairway, trumped all over everyone on the way, and made my way downstairs three steps at a time.
Yes, you have every right to call me selfish, but I also call myself "realistic", and I'm quite sure I wouldn't have been the only one to act this way. It's called human nature, and if the people organizing this drill think today's drill was a success they need a profound look in the mirror.
Anyway, once we left the building we made our way to the park near Parliament House, which is at the back of our building. I never approach the building from this side, though, so it was quite a revelation for me to discover that the Parliament train station is right next to my building (instead of the now routine 20 minute adventure to Flinders Street Station) and that the Melbourne Museum is just up the street (it's a very nice one; not as complete as the Louvre or the British Museum, but not as boringly huge as them, too).
With all the people traffic on the way it took a while till we crossed the roads to the park. Then they gathered us on this patch of grass that they enclosed with a string, which just happened to be the only patch of grass that was in the shade (blame the big ugly Orica building) while the rest was under the so nice and hazy sunshine that I craved because my coat was still up the 27th floor.
The rebel in me wanted to go to a coffee shop and warm up, but I was told I have to stay to the "roll call". We started having a chat about the world, the environment, and religion - a very interesting chat that lasted and lasted - while waiting for that roll call. That never came, though, and eventually we were just told we can go back; I should have followed my Israeli instincts and disappeared. Next time, gadget.
The queue near the elevators was huge, so on the way back we did go to the coffee shop. I know I said I'm not much of a coffee drinker, but I wanted something to warm me up, and we still we were still enjoying our existential conversation over cups of latte and capochino.
Eventually we went up and back to work, with two hours of the day just wasted, and effectively half of the working day vanishing into thin [cold] air.

The story would not be over without the tale of the conversation I've heard during lunch. This couple of guys were discussing the fire drill and how it meant guaranteed death if a real fire decided to take place while we were on the 27th floor.
Then one of the guys said, "yes, a fire is bad, but just think what would happen in case of a gas attack, like they had in Japan".
At this point I pointed out that in such a case we'd just step out to the balconies and enjoy the fresh air. However, I couldn't help thinking of the guy's twisted mind: How many gas attacks did Melbourne have during all history? How many gas attacks did Australia have to survive? The way that guy spoke made you think there are ten gas attacks for each fire, as opposed to something like millions of fires compared to absolute zero gas attacks (unless the guy was counting events that routinely take place in the toilets).
It's just amazing how irrational people can be. Especially when they're encouraged to think this way by a government that exploits this fear: I noticed today that ads all over the walls of Flinders Street Station call on people to tell the authorities in case they know something about a terror attack. It looks as if the government, with its popularity down lately, is calling upon its doom's day weapon again.

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