The Music Hall’s safety test
Before the official opening of the new Helsinki Music Hall, a unique evacuation drill was carried out. About 800 ordinary spectators participated in it.
Last June a group of excited and overwhelmed persons were on a walk-about in the Helsinki City Music Hall. They were the very first audience which got to test the Music Hall in practice – even before the building had been officially opened. With the help of these 700–800 people, for example the stage technology, carbon dioxide level, temperature, and evacuation plan were tested.
22 security guards and 14 observers took part in this operation, the extent of which was unique in Finland.
– If an evacuation drill is carried out with the help of military conscripts or students, it does not give a real picture of the situation. This is a unique possibility. It is also important that the staff of security firms get to test their job contents, says Timo Ustinov, fire chief of the Helsinki city Fire Department.
The Music Hall initiated the evacuation drill before the official opening. According to Viljami Vuorela, training manager of the Helsinki Association of Fire Fighters and Rescue Workers, the greatest challenges in the safety of the Music Hall lie in the building’s labyrinthine structure and unusual exit solutions. When leaving the main auditorium, for instance, one has to climb up stairs to get to the exit passages. Exiting the auditorium is nevertheless always possible by way of an over-pressurized corridor.
– Smoke removal is automated, and even if there was a bonfire in the middle of the stage, the auditorium shouldn’t fill up with smoke, says pyrotechnical designer Tommi Nieminen from L2 Paloturvallisuus Oy (L2 Fire safety Co.), who is responsible for the fire safety of the building.
The drill showed that the long exit passages and climbing of stairs proved to be a challenge, especially for old people. In an actual emergency, there is a risk that some persons get tired, and in a panic situation they may be trampled underfoot. In order to prevent problems, it is important that the instructions are clear and calm, and the information flow is quick and reliable.
– In exceptional situations, people tend to follow each other, and some exits are more popular than others. It is a challenge to guide people to use also other exit routes, says Vuorela.
Better instructions for exiting were needed in some places.
– The drill pointed out the crowded places. Therefore we added two extra security guards to the main exit routes on the main floor. With the up-dated instructions we will be able to guide the people more evenly to the different exits, explains Timo Hakokorpi from L2 Paloturvallisuus, who is responsible for drawing up the rescue plan.
In addition, the fire alarms could hardly be heard outside the building. Therefore some of the people had already started to come back inside, while the drill was still in progress.
– Guiding the visitors back inside after the drill had not been planned in advance, so also this aspect has now been taken into account, says Hakokorpi.
All in all, the rescue drill went well. The main auditorium was empty in 2 minutes and 36 seconds – which is quite quickly. Only some minor corrections had to be made to the plans.
After the evacuation drill, the personnel in charge of safety at the Music Hall have attended a 30-hour course on how to handle emergency situations. Also the instructions concerning the operation of the safety technology were checked and up-dated on the basis of the experiences.
Text: Tiia Lappalainen