City employees brave cold for first citywide evacuation drill

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- With the temperature a chilly 4 degrees, city employees -- some with hands tightly wrapped around coffee mugs and clutching pastries -- filed out of City Hall Wednesday in the first citywide evacuation drill.

''Attention! Attention! Attention!,'' a male voice boomed from the public address system at City Hall at 10 a.m. ''An emergency has been reported ... Do not use the elevator. Walk to the nearest stairway.''

Employees filed past city safety director Mike Schowen who stood in the lobby holding an electronic stop watch to time how quickly people evacuated. Security guard Mark Jensen stood nearby in a trench coat, talking on a two-way radio.

''Are they supposed to go all the way across the street?'' Jensen asked Schowen. ''They're just sitting out there.''

Jensen directed employees to gather far away from the building.

Some employees wrapped their arms around themselves as they shuffled off across the parking lot in the cold.

''Why are we going so far away?,'' asked a woman who wore no coat and didn't want to give her name, but described herself as the safety officer for the third floor. ''I think a lot of people left early to get a smoke, a cup of coffee, because they didn't want to use the stairs.''

About 1,500 city employees in 94 municipal buildings participated in the drill recommended by a nine-member team that has met several times since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Nance Larsen, spokeswoman for Mayor George Wuerch.

On the team's recommendations, some changes were made in the drill, including having emergency response coordinators on each floor to make sure offices are vacant and doors closed, monitors on each floor to do head counts and establish a buddy system for people who aren't easily ambulatory.

The evacuation of the eight-story City Hall building took 6 minutes and 11 seconds.

''I was surprised it emptied out as quick as it did,'' Schowen said.

He admitted people were confused about the designated meeting area but said with more practice that won't be a problem.

Anchorage residents, being 4,649 miles away from New York, are probably more relaxed about a terrorist attack than people in the Lower 48, but that doesn't mean real danger doesn't exist in Alaska's largest city, Schowen said.

Take earthquakes, for example. Falling debris is a pretty good reason not to congregate just outside the doors, he said.

On March 27, 1964, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in North America struck 75 miles east of Anchorage. The earthquake and tsunami that followed killed 131 people.

''Our biggest threat is a natural disaster,'' Schowen said.

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