. . . you should never, ever live more than two or three floors up in an apartment tower (or, for that matter, work above that level in a skyscraper office building).
That's Grenfell Tower in London, on fire. There are many more pictures at the link. Several fatalities have been confirmed, with more people as yet unaccounted for.
Ever since I was a sector officer in civil defense in Cape Town, South Africa, responsible for several high-rise office blocks in the city center, I've had a real phobia for such places. When one is taught just how many things can go wrong, to cause a fire or other disaster, one realizes how little chance one has in places like that. 9/11 proved that for terrorists, such towers are an open invitation to mass casualty events, too.
I realize some people have no choice but to live and/or work in such buildings. For them, I have the following advice.
- Live and/or work as low in the building as you can - preferably within three floors of the ground, if at all possible. If you're forced to live or work higher than that, have a plan to get lower in the building at the earliest possible opportunity in the event of a problem, even if this is against company policy or the orders of your superiors. What's more important - your job, or your life? Speed can save you. Delay can kill you. Ask those who got out of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Those who didn't or couldn't move fast, didn't survive. (If you're partly disabled, as I am, this is an even more important consideration. I can't move fast or far on foot, even if I want to. I've got to be ready to move as quickly as possible if I'm going to make it out of such a situation.)
- Be prepared to evacuate in the event of fire or other disaster. This includes having a 'bug-out bag' permanently packed and ready, containing all your essential documentation, medication, a change of clothing, etc. Have one for each family member at home, and have one for yourself at work as well. The change of clothing is particularly important. Have you ever watched office workers trying to walk down twenty-plus flights of stairs in high heels? I have. It's not pretty - and they delay everyone behind them, too. If they kick off their shoes to walk faster, their feet can (and will) be trodden on by others, causing possibly crippling injury - and if they're not used to walking in bare feet, they'll be hurting and slowing down within a few floors. Having a pair of good walking or running shoes can be, literally, a life-saver.
- Know every potential exit route available to you, including ones that may be officially 'off limits'. In the event of disaster, who cares if some bureaucrat has decreed that this passage is for higher-ranking personnel only, or that stairwell is reserved for use by certain floors? If your life is at stake, you don't have time to argue or discuss the matter. Make sure you know how to get to any and all of them.
- If you might potentially be trapped in your apartment or office, consider providing your own means of escape. This is where being lower in the building can literally be a life-saver. You can buy emergency rope ladders that are installed on your balcony or just inside an opening window, and can unroll to give you a way to reach the ground down the outside of the building. If you can't afford one, or don't have space to store one, you can at least have a safety or rescue rope long enough to reach the ground from your location, with knots tied in it at regular intervals to help you get down it. (Fitness and strength are essential to use it safely, of course.) Have one or two portable fire extinguishers on hand (preferably at least 4-5 pounds weight, so as to have multi-use capacity, and rated for fire types A, B and C), not only to put out fires in your vicinity, but also to help you get past or through flames on your way out of the building. Fire masks that allow you to breathe and protect your eyes will be extremely valuable (I've tested this one, with acceptable results). Also, keep on hand a tool or tools that can smash windows, force open doors, etc. Fire axes, pry bars, Halligan tools, etc. are used by fire departments for a reason. There's no reason you can't own and use them, too - and some training may be useful. In particular, don't forget those most basic, yet most essential, of tools - a good pocket flashlight and folding knife! You can often take them places where you can't take something bigger or stronger. Make sure both are stout units that will stand up to being dropped or abused. When you're trying to save your life, you may not be able to handle or use them gently.
- Have multiple ways to attract the attention of emergency services. A flashlight or lantern with a strobe setting, an emergency whistle, an air horn - there are many devices that will help to announce your presence and indicate that you need help. They might save your life.
- Realize that if you're caught in a crowd, you're effectively no more than a lemming among lemmings. A crowd is not intelligent. It's an amorphous mob of individuals 'following the herd'. It can be stampeded, driven, manipulated . . . all bad things. Get out, fast, and get clear of the crowd. You'll be a lot safer that way.
- As you get clear of the crowd, remember that predators always gather to prey on the herd. If you move away, you give up your anonymity among the mass of people. I guarantee you, at that fire last night, muggers, pickpockets and other criminals were drawn to the mass of people evacuating the building, or just gawking at the flames. As you get clear, remain alert to your surroundings, and be prepared to fend off unknown would-be 'helpers' or other potential threats.
- Pre-arrange contact methods and routines for your family. If anyone is caught up in an emergency, they should know whom to call to leave messages that they're OK (or not), that they've got away from the scene of the problem, and where they can be found (or need to be picked up). It's a lot easier, particularly for kids, if they have a cellphone pre-programmed with emergency numbers, so all they have to do is punch one button, or select one particular entry in their address book. (Of course, in a major emergency, the cellphone networks will almost certainly be overloaded, so calls may not get through. Text messaging may be more reliable; or you might want to invest in some Family Radio Service (FRS) two-way radios, to maintain contact with those who are close enough to you to use them. They're very handy if you're in a group, and get separated - you can ask each other where you are, and navigate to a recognizable landmark where you can be reunited. You can also use them if you're in different vehicles, to keep in touch and arrange to meet up at a convenient stopping place.)
Those are just a few suggestions. My primary one, however, is still not to live and/or work in such buildings. It's a lot safer if you're not there in the first place!