What held up quick evacuation of victims during 9/11?


Washington : Victims from the Sep 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center (WTC) could have been evacuated early but rampant confusion, ignorance about drills, unsuitable footwear and procedural wrangles led to the delay, researchers have concluded.

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For instance, the WTC crisis evaluation was delayed by lack of awareness and inexperience in evacuation procedures; making phone calls; seeking out co-workers; and personal concerns about one’s own ability to descend multiple flights of stairs.

Workers also delayed their evacuation because they were waiting for their supervisor’s permission to leave. The entire evacuation process took much more time because of inappropriate footwear; confusion about where the staircases were located and where they terminated; and periodic congestion on stairs.

Injuries were associated most often with physical disabilities – those with physical disabilities were more likely to be injured during the evacuation process, Columbia University said in a release based on its research.

A research approach known as participatory action research (PAR) was used to identify individual, organisational, and structural/environmental barriers to safe and rapid evacuation.

Robyn Gershon, professor of clinical sociomedical sciences at the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and principal investigator of this study, said: “PAR has been used extensively in occupational health research but not, to our knowledge, in disaster research.”

Specific measures recommended by PAR team members include mandatory training and drills, such as full-building evacuation drills. PAR team members also suggested that employees keep comfortable footwear and emergency supplies at their desks.

“One of the most important recommendations the teams made was to encourage the development of a clear-cut emergency preparedness climate that is communicated to personnel,” noted Gershon.

PAR helped researchers engage and collaborate with members of the study population on all phases of the project – from study design to the presentation of results and discussion of implications, said the release.

For this study, evacuees, investigators, and consultants with a wide range of expertise worked together collaboratively to develop a set of recommendations to improve high-rise evacuation of business occupancies.