Our company had an earthquake/fire drill today. The way the drills are conducted is very different from in the States. For one, we were notified two days in advance. And the day before the drill, people were assigned to all sorts of tasks: one guy went around and made sure everyone had a helmet; another tallied up the people who will be in the office on that day (not taking into consideration emergency sickness, but then again, in Japan you are not allowed to get sick); clipboards were distributed to group leaders with action plans for the drill, etc. etc.
9am this morning, the loudspeaker cackled into life. A man announced that a drill would be conducted in 30 minutes. How nice of them to give us yet another notice.
9:30am, the real drill began. We were told that an earthquake had just occurred, and then were instructed to put on our helmets and hide under the desk for one minute. Then our floor leader informed us that a fire has broken out on our floor, but everyone should stay calm while they contact the fire department. We were told to wait until further instruction (despite the burning FIRE??!) After enough time that would’ve allowed the fire to engulf the whole building, we were instructed to evacuate the building via the emergency exit. Then we had to cross the street in an orderly fashion (and wait for the traffic light) and assemble in the parking lot.
After confirming all 546 people who are supposed to be in office today are all present, the drill was declared a success. (Is it a coincidence or extremely well planning? Because every time we have a drill, we always have gorgeous sunny weather.) This would’ve been a total waste of time, despite the weather, had it not been for the “Smoke House” experience.
The local fire department set up a smoke-filled room (about 3ft wide and 15ft long) in the parking lot. We had to find our way through it without bumping into the partitions inside.
I thought I could just follow the person in front of me and be out of there in no time. Boy was I wrong! I now know why smoke is more dangerous than an actual fire. The smoke used was of course harmless but nonetheless gave out a strange sweet smell. I crouched low like I was told because smoke rises up so visibility is supposed to be better closer to the ground. At first, it was fairly easy to see the person’s shoe in front of me, but after two steps all I could see was white smoke. No sign of the person in front, not even the ground. I felt like a blind person and had to rely on my hands to guide me. For a brief moment of not knowing which way to go, I actually (am not proud to admit it either, but it's the truth) felt the onset of a panic attack. But luckily, fresh air gushed in from the exit and guided me out of the smoke house before my imminent breakdown.
Moral of the story: if you are trapped in a smoke-filled room, you are as good as dead!