Emergency measures’perceptions and attitudes
An interesting survey commissioned by the National Fire Protection Association has focused on some individual cognitive aspects that play an important role in the effectiveness of the evacuation process (Zmud, 2007). It explored the general knowledge, attitudes and perceptions about high-rise building safety and emergency evacuation procedures in case of fires and factors that contribute to them, both in commercial and in residential buildings in the U.S. The idea was that attitudes and perceptions towards evacuation were change after the 9/11 terroristic attack to the World Trade Center and that a new overview of them was needed to “develop more appropriate occupant notification and communication strategies and to build evacuation and occupant relocation strategies, emergency responder strategies, and education programs and messages” (Zmud, 2007, p. 1). Actually, the 9/11 WTC terroristic attack heightened concerns about safety in high-rise buildings (more for commercial occupancies’ respondents than for residential occupancies’ respondents). Evacuation drills were seen as somewhat or very beneficial from the 89% of the survey’s participants, and the top suggestion was precisely to improve safety through increasing the number of drills. In general, occupants of commercial buildings feel they are prepared and trained to evacuate, e. g. “I am prepared to take necessary action in case of a fire in my building” 4.3 mean score (with 1 meaning I strongly disagree and 5 meaning I totally disagree), “I am well informed regarding safety procedures in my building in the event of a fire” 4 mean score. The 98% of the occupants of commercial buildings knew where the emergency exits were (against 95% of occupants of residential buildings). Understanding attitudes, beliefs and perceptions is of utmost importance because they affect the likelihood of a specific behavior, in this case of the evacuation process.
However, knowledge, perceptions and attitude about emergency measures vary within the population. They change between ages (e.g. teenagers versus elderly) because they are connected with previous experiences, between genders, but they vary even more between cultures. Carter-Pokras, Zambrana, Mora and Aaby (2007) have studied perceptions and knowledge about emergency preparedness between Latin American Immigrants (the largest minority group in the United States) using focus groups. The assumption on which CarterPokras and colleagues cased their survey is that “cultural groups respond to risk and crisis communication on the basis of their perceptions and ways of thinking, and these differ from group to group” (Carter-Pokras et al., 2007, p. 466). What emerged from the investigation is that few participants had received information about emergency measures because of the language barrier. Indeed, disaster warning in the U.S. are usually broadcasted only in English, and lot of Latin American Immigrants, even if they have moved since several years, are not able to perfectly manage English (especially elderly people). Moreover, focus group participants themselves admit they are not motivated to engage this topic: “Latinos are lazy to read informational bulletins and go to meetings…sometimes the school holds the meetings to talk about thingslike this, but very few of us show up…and they wait until it happens to react”. They also confess distrust of governmental authorities and so also to their indications and rules to follow in case of emergency. This mixture of factors lead to a higher vulnerability for minorities in case of emergency and this is a key factor to take into account in order to develop a real comprehensive emergency management.
© – MANAGEMENT OF AN EMERGENCY EVACUATION: A LEADER’S PERSPECTIVE – Sara Colangeli