Rick Rescorla and Evacuation Drills

I read this article on Quora just now and wanted to share it more widely. In India we don’t believe much in evacuation drills and fire safety drills etc. I remember we had a fire breakout in the apartment below ours on Jan 4, 2012. I thought it was raining and looked out of the window early in the morning only to smell smoke. Some young boys were smoking at night and left a burning stub on the sofa. The sofa caught fire slowly and within a few hours, the whole living room was engulfed in fire. Here is the blog I wrote that day – FIRE !!!

What I haven’t mentioned in that blog is the fact that the fire trucks couldn’t turn into our block of apartments because there was no space for them to turn :(. Its not just our block but every block and nearly every apartment complex has these challenges because we don’t bother about building safety or fire safety norms. Thank God the guards are trained in fire safety and have regular drills. They put out the fire that day and many other smaller fires in the years gone by.

BLOT – All the mock drills are essential for survival. Pay attention and participate fully. Build your muscle memory to react to such emergencies because you cannot “think” yourself out of these … only your habits help.



Many of you would remember this picture (North & South Towers of Word Trade Centre, September 11 attacks ).

This interesting and absolutely amazing story is about a person who saved thousand of lives on that day. The man anticipated 9/11 attacks long before the attacks actually took place. The story was shared with us by a faculty during one of our recent training programs on Safety Practices.

Bob Scott, The President & COO of Morgan Stanley, while speaking at Harvard Business School once said that 9/11 attacks were a milestone more than any other for them. (Leadership on 9/11: Morgan Stanley’s Challenge). It might intrigue you as to why he was referring 9/11 attacks as a milestone. So here is the fact, Morgan Stanley was the largest tenant in the World Trade Towers at that time with approx 2700 employees butthey lost just 6 employees that very day. The person to be thanked for this, was Rick Rescorla .

Rick Rescorla was a former Vietnam War veteran and a retired army officer of America. He was also a private security specialist who eventually became Director of Security at Morgan Stanley at the World Trade Towers. Due to some reasons, Rick always felt that the World Trade Towers (WTT) were highly prone to terrorist attacks. One of his friends, Daniel Hill was trained in Counter Terrorism. In 1990, he invited his friend Hill to visit World Trade Centre to get an assessment of its security. When Rescorla asked Hill how he would attack the building if he were a terrorist, Hill said that he would drive a truck full of explosives in the basement, walk out, and light it off (Rick Rescorla – Wikipedia ). They both submitted reports about it to the authorities but they were ignored. And in 1993 in similar fashion, a truck filled with explosives detonated below the North Tower. (1993 World Trade Center bombing) This was the first attempt by Al-Qaeda to attack the WTT.

After this incident, Rescorla gained more credibility and authority. He wanted the company out of that building because he continued to feel, as did Hill, that the World Trade Center was still prone to terrorist attacks, and that the next attack could involve a plane crashing into one of the towers due to their height. But the company could not move out of the towers as they had lease agreements, hence Rescorla used to make all employees, including senior executives, practice emergency evacuation drills every three months. He told the employees that they needed to empower themselves through surprise/mock fire drills in order to counter any emergency in future. Rescorla’s strict approach to these drills also put him into conflict with some high-powered executives and employees, but still he kept on insisting for regular drills.
After all that day came, on 11 Sept 2001 The World Trade Towers were under attack. And its a fact, When any emergency occurs then our mind doesn’t work instead our habits help us. In emergency, we do what we have been doing regularly. So when the attacks unravelled, Morgan Stanley employees were already prepared for evacuation at once as they have been trained for such scenario over the years. Within no time, Rescorla managed to evacuate most the employees. After successful evacuation of Morgan Stanley employees, someone told him that he too had to evacuate the building to that he replied that he would evacuate himself out as soon as he makes sure that everyone else was out (Rick Rescorla – Wikipedia) ,Shortly the South Tower (He was in south tower) collapsed and his remains were never found. He was declared dead after 3 days. Such a HERO! He saved 2700 lives on 11th Sept, 2001 during the attacks. This story underlines the importance of such disaster contingency drills/plans and Ironically, in India we don’t take such drills seriously.

Moral: “If you wait for a crisis to begin to lead, its too late.”
~ Bob Scott.

P.S This year late Rick Rescorla was awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal by Donald Trump for his extraordinary sacrifice.

Credits: Rick Rescorla – Wikipedia ( some text taken from wikipedia)


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