Grabbing the Grab Bag

Grabbing the Grab Bag

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I was in San Francisco earlier this year, and met with Rob Dudgeon (Director of Emergency Services at San Francisco Department for Emergency Management) who showed me around the Emergency Operations Centre, a facility which I expect has been very busy over the past couple of days, following the Boeing 777 crash on Saturday.

SFO crashWith the NTSB investigation is still in progress I don’t want to comment too much, other than sharing this interesting Forbes piece Why Did So Many Passengers Evacuate With Bags?

It’s something that I think about every time I board a plane. I know that the correct thing to do is to just get out as quickly as possible without being slowed down by rummaging for bags. However, I’m sure we all have experience of workplace fire drills in the cold or rain where just a split second to grab a coat or umbrella could have made us much more comfortable in an unpleasant situation.

Moreover, for an emergency planner, not taking the Grab Bag that I have packed ready for these sorts of occasions seems to be contrary to their purpose.

I’m not bothered about my valuables – I know that the contents of my hold luggage is insured and that I can get them replaced. I’m also not going to need the latest holiday read, but some of the items in my hand luggage could be genuinely useful in the event of an emergency.

  • I  know I’m going to need to call people and I know that my iPhone has a battery life of a few hours at best. So I need my charger, and probably a plug adapter
  • I’m going to need to provide officials with information – having my wallet and passport to hand will help with that
  • If I’m lucky enough to survive the impact, I don’t suppose I’ll manage to stay clean and dry when leaving the aircraft, so whilst it might seem a luxury, actually having a change of clothes is advantageous
  • Other people could conceivably want to grab a few items too – the diabetic on oral hypoglycaemics or insulin, the parents who need to think about baby food…

Plane crashes, thankfully, don’t happen frequently. I’d estimate that I’ve deplaned in excess of 200 times and none of these have been under emergency conditions. We know that under stress people revert to what they know, which could explain the number of passengers who picked up their belongings.

Naturally there is a dynamic risk assessment which must take place. If the fire is raging towards me then I can forego the above, but if I have a couple of moments to grab some essentials without causing a blockage for other passengers then I think that’s a useful activity.

With airlines, particularly budget ones, forcing passengers hands into taking all their luggage as hand luggage (to avoid additional charges) are they contributing to increased evacuation times? Encourage people to bring hand luggage, but keep it to the small essentials in a soft sided bag (so that it doesn’t puncture the escape slides). Don’t tell people to have a grab bag but not to grab it.


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