The Consummate Traveler: Hotels, Alarms, and Fires….oh my!

BY Michele Goncalves TIMEMay 22, 2014 PRINT

I recently took a few days off from work and treated myself to a mini getaway at a very nice New York City hotel near Central Park. My room ended up being on the top floor, the 46th, with a lovely view. On my first night, I was in a very deep sleep with my IPOD headphones still in my ears, when I vaguely sensed an alarm bell and announcement going off in the hallway at 2:45 a.m.

I ripped my earphones off, stood by my door, and sure enough the fire alarm was sounding and someone was explaining on the emergency sound system that the “incident” was all clear and they were sorry for any inconvenience. Well, this type of announcement is a bit unnerving, after all I had no idea what the “incident” was. Could it have been a shooter running loose in the building, a fire, or something else? I attempted to call the manager on duty to find out what was happening, but the phone line was busy and I eventually gave up.

Since I did not see or smell smoke, the most immediate danger I could think of, I stayed in my room. However, who could sleep? This extremely loud alarm and announcement proceeded to go off every 10 minutes or so, until about 3:30 a.m. At this point, a new voice came over the sound system and told all the hotel guests to go back to their rooms. The drama was apparently over.

The next morning, as I took the elevator to the lobby I asked a gentleman who entered on the 43rd floor if he knew what had happened. Apparently, there was a small fire in a wastebasket in one of the rooms on his floor. He said that there had been confusion over what to do exactly, because one set of firefighters asked those on his floor to evacuate to the 40th floor, while another group of firefighters earlier did not require an evacuation. He felt the instructions were not clear or consistent. I would have to agree.

In the end, all of the hotel guests and staff were safe, but this incident was a great reminder of being prepared in case this ever happens to you. I would like to review a few basic safety tips for you to apply on all of your trips going forward:

1. Top floor risks: Yes, the views are amazing when you are way up high. However, if there is an emergency and evacuation is needed, you will most likely need to take the stairs. If you are not physically able to handle such a requirement or are not willing to take the risk, request to make stay on a lower floor when you check in.

2. Keep your essentials packed: If an emergency strikes in the middle of the night, and you need to run out of your room, it is important to get in the habit of keeping all of your essentials ready to go in a backpack or handbag before you retire for the night. By essentials, I mean things such as passport/ID, wallet, medication, and glasses. Don’t try to take everything with you.

3. Put your shoes on: Unless immediate danger is about to strike you, take a minute to put your shoes on before you run out of your room. If you need to run down the stairs or exit the hotel and stand in the street, this may be difficult to do with bare feet or slippers.

4. Always pack a mini-flashlight: In case the hotel lights go out and you need to find the exit and staircase, having a small flashlight will be a lifesaver for you and your fellow hotel guests. Keep it in a handy place, like your bedside table. When your room is dark and your adrenaline is on high alert from the sound of alarms, trust me, the last thing you want to do is fumble around in your luggage to find a flashlight. Mobile phones sometimes have lights already built into them, which can be a good substitute, or you can also explore different flashlight Apps available for your phone. Just don’t forget to charge your phone so that you have enough battery power to get you to safety.

As always, I wish you all the happiest and most importantly safest of travels!

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