There are so many things wrong with this horrible situation that we’re not sure where to start. No. That’s not true. Let’s start with the fact that 36 people are dead or missing after this horrible fire in Oakland, and our hearts ached for their families.
Then, for the sake of clarity, let’s audibly set aside the fact that the manager of this space was keeping children in these deplorable conditions. That part hurts so much to know, but we’re going to focus on the fire, and the children weren’t there during the fire (thank goodness), so we’re going to set that to the side.
As insurance professionals, let’s just talk about the lack of fire safety measures, and try to learn something from this.
- Mark the fire exits! As Reuters reports, the maze of meandering corridors lacked clear exit signage, creating a horrifying maze for anyone in this space when the fire broke out. Think about that; being trapped in a maze with fire and smoke rising all around you. Maybe those signs weren’t hung because they were presumed to disrupt the artist aesthetic, or because the owner didn’t know enough to mark them, or perhaps some other reason that seemed really important at the time. The fact remains that people were trapped, and scared, and many of them lost the race against time.
- Clear out the clutter! And then the trash and debris. It was literally kindling for this fire. Stacked up like a boy scout’s fire making badge requirement, dry, and ready to ignite. Much of it is also blocking exits.
- Don’t mess with zoning requirements! This was zoned as a warehouse. People aren’t supposed to be living in a warehouse! When it’s zoned to be a residential space, it’s subject (for good reason) to lots of requirements that make it safe for people to live and hang out in there. Saving money by living there, and/or offering it up as living space in exchange for assistance with a project is not okay, and ended up costing people their lives.
- Don’t say stupid stuff after a crisis! After this horrific fire where people are dead and missing and suffering, the manager of the space mourns the loss of his “stuff.” Needless to say, that didn’t sit well with the media and/or family members. Get some PR help in an emergency. Lots of people who have the proper insurance get this service as part of their policy. It’s called crisis response coverage. Make sure you have it, and make sure you use it before you write or say anything publicly. It can also help your victims and their families.
Please help us to honor the memory of those lost in this horrific incident by shouting these things to yourself or anyone you know who is managing vacant space, warehouse space, or really any building.