A false fire alarm incident at a Primark store in Westgate Center was enough to send business managers to their boardrooms for a review of their emergency evacuation procedures after a woman with disabilities says she was left stranded. The incident raised some serious concern about evacuation procedures, staff sensitization and training, and the inclusion of people with disabilities.
Though the mention of escalators, lifts, and fire exits in their procedures is an indication that there are some provisions for evacuation, the adequacy of these options was called into question. The customer claimed that during the alarm, staff seemed to be only focused on themselves – that they had no idea how to evacuate a person with disabilities, that they were confused, that they panicked, that they were frustrated, and that they were gone. These claims suggest negligence. The Primark Management came out in defense of the procedures and the staff, saying it could have been a “firefighting” reaction after the seemingly ugly incident or a genuine inaccurate description of what transpired during the incident.
Alicia Thain—the woman in a wheelchair that says she was left behind—is representative of many other people living with different forms of disabilities. Luckily, Alicia was able to get to the first floor and was going about her shopping activities like everyone else before the fire alarm, making clear that she could have found her way out on her own. Instead, it's said she chose to wait for the staff and complain.
Alicia’s distress could have been contributed by her inexperience in the use of the wheelchair. Her mother confessed that she had been using it for only three weeks. Additionally, the comments made by Alicia and her mother about Primark staff and management seem to indicate an attitude problem rather than an inability problem. However, it is worth considering sensitization training for the Primark staff and a review of the procedures so as to guard against a similar occurrence in the future.