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Disobey authority

Wired has a piece on why it’s smart to disobey authority during emergencies:

For nearly four years – steadily, seriously, and with the unsentimental rigor for which we love them – civil engineers have been studying the destruction of the World Trade Center towers, sifting the tragedy for its lessons. And it turns out that one of the lessons is: Disobey authority. In a connected world, ordinary people often have access to better information than officials do.

Proof can be found in the 298-page draft report issued in April by the National Institute on Standards and Technology called Occupant Behavior, Egress, and Emergency Communications. (In layman’s terms, that’s who got out of the buildings, how they got out, and why.) It’s an eloquent document, in many ways. The report confirms a chilling fact that was widely covered in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. After both buildings were burning, many calls to 911 resulted in advice to stay put and wait for rescue. Also, occupants of the towers had been trained to use the stairs, not the elevators, in case of evacuation.

I concur. The title official does not necessarily denote the sharpest knife in the drawer. Dave Newman knew that.

7 Responses to “Disobey authority”

  1. Blake Says:

    Never rely on 911 to save you…whether you’re in the World Trade Towers or someone is breaking into your house.

  2. Chris Wage Says:

    I think this is a little bit of a difficult issue. Telling someone to stay put and wait for rescue in the event of a high-rise rescue probably is the best course of action. I mean, it’s not every day that someone plows two jetliners into a skyscraper causing it to tumble to the ground. Up until the moment the towers fell, no one really expected it.

    I don’t think it’s fair to blame emergency call handlers in this — a relatively unprecedented situation. Hindsight is always 20/20.

  3. Chris Wage Says:

    er, high-rise fire, that is

  4. tgirsch Says:

    Chris raises a good point. In this particular case, not listening to authorities turned out to be the right idea (and in general that’s what you’ll more likely hear about because it makes a sexier story), but what you don’t hear about is the times when doing as told is the best course of action (and this is probably the case most of the time).

  5. Johnny - Oh Says:

    I just checked the NITC findings, and I found that only 2 elevators were functioning of the 198 that were in Tower 1 and Tower 2. Tower 1 from the Lobby to the 16th floor, and Tower 2 from the lobby to the 40th floor. As an elevator mechanic, I believe that this is perfectly in order with the safety systems installed in traction elevators.

    At the bottom of each elevator there is a “Compensating Shieve” that keeps the car balanced and also keeps tension on all the “ropes” no matter how much weight is on the car. Attacthed to this Shieve there is a lever that will throw a switch is the shieve rises otr falls above a set parameter (generally around 6 to 10 inches). When the switch is thrown, power is cut to the drive motor, and the brakes are set to keep the car in place. I’m certain that when the airplanes collided with the towers, this system was tripped on nearly all the elevators. The two that did not stop likely had this safety bypassed for some reason.

    Just wanted to let you know that the whole last line about “use the stairs, not the elevators” is a moot point.

  6. SayUncle Says:

    Johnny, based on that, I would concur. That’d be a lot of stairs and the people up top had no way down through the wreckage.

  7. Johnny - Oh Says:

    Yeah, the people who were above the crash floors were pretty much hosed, but I wonder how many could have been saved if those elevators were able to be put back in service quickly enough.