Quick fixes for a rush hour from hell

 

This week was probably not a fun time to be a train dispatcher for London Underground. Following a roof collapse in Kings Cross, four lines were affected, from closure to severe delays. The knock-on effect was on stations, with rush hour crowding building up to a greater degree than usual.

I was at Bank, getting on the Northern line when Moorgate station was closed due to overcrowding. And on the train it was announced that Kings Cross was closed. I thought I would stay on to Euston and walk back to Kings Cross.

On arriving at Euston, along with the accumulated passenger population of Kings Cross commuters plus the Euston lot, we were evacuated from the station. I’d like to say promptly evacuated, but there were so many people that it took around 15 minutes to get out of the building.

No one panicked, which was great. Not only was it great, but it was surprising, as the announcement advising us to leave was not: due to overcrowding, passengers were asked to exit the building as soon as possible.

Nope, the announcement that was made was:

Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. Due to a reported emergency, would all passengers leave the building immediately… Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. Due to a reported emergency, would all passengers leave the building immediately… Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. Due to a reported emergency, would all passengers leave the building immediately…

This announcement was looped continuously for the entire time we were exiting. My fellow commuters chatted a bit (amazing!) about whether or not we should be worried, but everyone simply shuffled our way to the surface.

I believe it’s possible to service design an emergency evacuation:

  • For a start, if closing a station due to over-crowding, isn’t the first priority to stop people coming in, and then calmly reduce the number of people inside?
  • It should be possible to make a more accurate and less frightening announcement – something like “due to the crowded conditions, it is necessary to ask passengers to leave the building.”
  • I noticed that for nearly the entire time we were exiting, half of the escalators were still running downwards, which reduced the amount of exit space by half. With CCTV within stations, I would imagine it would be possible to see when escalators are clear and can be turned off, to allow use going upwards.

I know that emergency services regularly run simulations to prototype their plans. Maybe next time they could invite a few service designers along.