I have had lots of thoughts and feelings in reaction to some of the misleading and damaging opinions published online since the world started to realize the enormity of the challenge posed by the …you know. Where to even begin on a subject this big? I can tell already that this is going to have to be a multi-part, multi-post effort.
My priority of late has been keeping healthy so I can be effective at work, and keeping in touch with my loved ones to check they are all alright.
If you know anything about me, I hope you know that I love people, I love the multicultural beautiful human family. I respect that others may have beliefs that are very precious to them, and I would not want to be disrespectful to anyone. So I am going to try to be very careful in what I say.
I am prompted to write this because I have seen some wild assertions recently. They can be very hurtful. There are two aspects to this. One is the political side, the other is the religious side. You may have seen the reports this week that the World Health Organisation have warned against politicising the …you know. It’s not helpful. Regardless of political leanings, we are all in this together.
It does not seem appropriate at this time. I think I have mentioned in the past that I worked as a steward at arenas and stadiums. We had regular training to prepare us for dangerous scenarios that would require us to direct the public in the case of an emergency. What to do in the case of a fire, a bomb-scare, a child abductor, or perpetrators of violent acts was included. In the years I worked as a steward, at least twice I had to help to conduct large scale evacuations due to bomb scares.
At one event, we were able to evacuate an audience of 15,000 safely in eight minutes. Eight minutes! Why? Essentially because we understood the seriousness of the situation, we remained calm, we gave clear instructions, and the public responded to the direction and obeyed. During those eight minutes, it was no time to bicker or squabble.
Afterwards, there were some issues that had to be addressed. They had to take a serious look at the evacuation procedures and identify what had not worked and potentially could have been dangerous. One big issue was that we received inaccurate information. We were told it was a Code Yellow – which means fire. In response we told people to leave their belongings and exit immediately. That meant we had a huge number of potential “suspicious packages” within the arena. That caused other challenges later.
In addition, other issues came to light. One of which was the traffic lights outside of the arena. In the scenario of an emergency evacuation, the traffic lights were supposed to turn red for traffic and green for pedestrians, in order to allow thousands of people to cross the road and distance themselves from the arena. If people could not continuously cross the road, it could slow down the exit of people from the arena. However, the traffic lights did not do what we had been told at countless training sessions that they would do. We were very fortunate. Our stewards took the initiative and stopped the traffic by standing in the road to allow pedestrians to continue to cross.
There are some really really hard things you have to accept when you train to be a steward. Really hard. One of the hardest to accept is that in the scenario of a large-scale evacuation, you have to let able-bodied people leave first, and those who use wheelchairs are to leave last. When you first hear that at your training it is a shock. It is so hard to swallow. The reason for it is that you have to get as many people out as quickly as possible. But it seems barbaric when you first hear it. Of course the stewards also stay until last of all. So, we would make sure we did everything we could to make sure everyone was evacuated safely. But speed is essential, so things have to happen in an order that allows for a speedy and safe evacuation. You can’t slow down the flow of the departure by blocking corridors and concourses.
It is not easy to be in a role with that much responsibility on your shoulders. We had repeated training sessions to make sure we understood that our actions as stewards could be absolutely pivotal in keeping people safe.
Those eight minutes when we had to evacuate 15,000 people were crucial. It was not a time for arguing or complaining. It was not a time to question our training. It was not a time to start cursing the managers or blaming whoever programmed the evacuation procedures. Later all issues were identified and corrected. But when you are in the middle of a crisis, you just get on with keeping people safe in a calm cooperative spirit.
We are currently in the middle of a challenge that poses a serious threat to life. There are people who are anxious and frightened. Now is the time to be calm and obey instructions designed for your safety and the safety of others. The whole plan is to save as many lives as possible.
I have mentioned to several of my colleagues that since this all began, it is my training as a steward that keeps coming back into my mind. Stay calm and cool headed. Communicate instructions clearly without raising panic. The public need to cooperate. They need to cooperate. If someone starts pushing through crowds determined to go and retrieve their child who they allowed to sit with another family, or rushing into the danger zone to find their aunt who is sitting in a section set aside for wheelchairs, it could be disastrous. It’s incredibly hard when you are a steward and a member of the audience starts to yell at you because you won’t allow them to go running into the cordoned off area so that they can find their kid.
I am looking at those who are in positions of responsibility and authority now. I am politically neutral. I work with international charities that transcend borders. Most of them are not stupid. (You can think whatever you like, but as I am not going to get involved in petty human politics I am not going to shame and blame any imperfect rulers.) Most of they are not unfeeling. They are in an extremely demanding and difficult role. They have to issue directions in order to protect as many people as possible. They have to accept the responsibility that their decisions are having on people’s livelihoods, their mental and emotional wellbeing, and many other factors.
You can think what you like about them in your head. But now…now is the time to be promoting cooperation and respect for the direction we have received. Now is the time to prioritise on saving lives and bolstering the health service rather than undermining their voice. Why? To help our families and communities endure what is clearly a long term challenge. I am sure there will be endless criticism and analysis later on. But now we need do what we have been asked and help those around us to stay calm, not panic, and ensure they are safe.
In this international challenge, we want to protect our human family. I honestly believe that like a member of the 15,000 audience that we evacuated in eight minutes (that included over 300 members of the audience who were using wheelchairs), it is time to stay calm, obey instructions and trust that those making decisions designed to protect people. They are not idiots. They are imperfect. They are in a very challenging role. We are in a crucial stage when we just need to follow instructions designed to save lives.
Then…if you really want to…you can get back on your political high horse.
But can we save lives first please?
NOW THIS WAS PART ONE…IN PART TWO I AM GOING TO TAKE US ALL THE WAY BACK TO A CRISIS THAT OCCURED IN ANCIENT EGYPT.