When The Fire Alarm Goes Off…

It’s late at night, you’re in a hotel, and the fire alarm goes off. What do you do? For around 1,500 people staying at Sheraton hotels in Downtown Philadelphia and the Philadelphia airport on July 22, this was not a rhetorical question. I’m going to separate the two incidents since I can only talk about one of them from first hand experience. Now don’t get me wrong – I’m very loyal to the Starwood chain and these events could have happened at any  hotel.

The fire department was called to the Sheraton in downtown Philadelphia at about 4 am because of a report of a light haze of smoke in the hotel’s basement. Fire officials reported that the cause of the smoke was an electrical panel that controls the HVAC system in the basement and declared the situation under control around 6:45 am.

Fans were set up on each floor to push the smoke into the fire tower and clear the building and hotel guests were let back into their rooms at about 12:30pm after the smoke had dissipated.

Several miles out of town at the Airport Sheraton Suites, where I was staying, the fire alarm went off at around 9:30 PM. I turned on the bedside light, got dressed, and opened the door to see dozens of people standing around the landings in front of their rooms. I headed to the stairs and walked down eight floors to the lobby along with two other people.

When I got to the front desk, I noted that one employee was on the phone, two other employees were standing around, and only I and the other two people whom I met in the stairwell were headed outside. I stopped at the front desk to ask what was up and the woman on the phone told me that it was a false alarm.

I asked why they didn’t announce that it was a false alarm and and she told me that she was on the phone to get help with the system but that security was walking the floors to let everyone know that they could go back to bed.

I returned to my room using the elevator, tweeted the situation to the Starwood hotels social media team, then went back to bed. Thirty minutes later the front desk called to tell me that they got a call from the social media team stating that I was concerned about the situation. She told me that they had everything under control.

It was ironic to me that the guests at the downtown Sheraton were there for the 69th Biennial National Association of Letter Carriers conference (Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…). While they were kept from their rooms for 8 hours with only whatever they carried out when the alarm sounded, they also were offered shelter at the nearby Pennsylvania Convention Center.

So we come full circle to the title of this entry; are you prepared to take decisive action when you need to evacuate your hotel? I am and this is my plan:

  • I locate the two nearest exits to my hotel room (I also do the same on an airplane).
  • I lay out my next day’s pants, shirt, and jacket.
  • I always carry a small flashlight and whistle in my pocket and before retiring I take them out and place them on the nightstand next to my watch, glasses, wedding band, and charging phone. Because the silent vibration mode wakes me up, I sandwich my phone between a clean pair of socks and underwear.
  • All of my important medications are in a bag that sits on the nightstand

If I need to bail for any reason, I am set to go with light, clothes, phone, and medication.

What is your plan? And seriously, would you lay in bed hoping it was a false alarm, open the door and stand on in the hallway, your get yourself out of the building and not risk the chance that it is for real? Please let me know in the comments.

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