Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

Planning Escape Routes From Your Buildings

"Hotel Colditz"

I recently met a man who had had managed to escape from a hotel under cover of darkness. No he wasn’t trying the old moonlight flit to avoid the bill and the cockroaches, although pretty vicious were not exactly life threatening.

He was staying in a fairly reasonable hotel and had to get up at 5 in the morning to catch an early flight. Waking up bleary eyed in the morning he went into the bathroom dressed in a tee shirt and inadvertently closed the bathroom door. He sat on the tut and then, following his usual morning routine, it was time for a shave. He remembered he had left his razor on the bed and reaching for the door handle…… there wasn’t one. The bracket was still there but the handle itself had gone to join the odd socks, gloves, Elvis Presley, UFO’s and all those other things that mysteriously vanish without trace.

At first it all seemed like a mere minor irritation but, as the full realisation of the situation crept through a sleepy brain, a wave of panic set in with the knowledge that a plane was leaving in about an hour and a half and he needed to be on it.

Suddenly wide awake, he scoured the bathroom to see if there was anything he could use as a tool to try get the door open but to no avail, a small bar of soap is somewhat ineffective as a screwdriver and trying to brush the door open with a hotel dental kit would be about as useless as fighting a fire with a condom.

Looking around for alternative means of escape he eyed with trepidation the two narrow horizontal windows high up on the wall. He might possibly be able to stand on the vanity to get out but the windows didn’t open, they were made up of panes of glass permanently fixed into their frames.

Standing on the vanity he peered into the darkness, a distant street light glimmered but gave nothing away of what was out there.

Shouting for help was futile, the bathroom was at the back of the hotel room which in turn was miles from the hotel lobby and at such an ungodly hour there was no one around to hear. In a place where initiative is rarer than a three legged chicken no one would check his room if he didn’t emerge and thoughts of being stuck there for hours, perhaps even days, drifted through his mind. Without his trusty razor how long would his beard grow before he would find freedom.

There was only one chance so, with the determination of a vet trying to get a thermometer up a sick rottweiler, he sprang into action. He grabbed the shower head and its spiral metallic hose and managed to unscrew it from the tap. Next the shower curtain was pulled off its hooks.

Climbing again onto the vanity the showerhead became a hammer and shattered glass showered onto the floor around him only to reveal an expanded aluminium flyscreen immediately behind the glass. Oh bum.

Our hero attacked the flyscreen with vigour and, fortunately, it tore fairly easily. Tiptoeing around in bare feet he cleaned the glass shards off the vanity and the opening. The curtain was placed over the window frame and the shower hose became a rope to lower himself to the ground. Now for the tricky bit of trying to insert himself through a narrow gap 5 feet above the vanity and without breaking a rather large mirror. It was like trying to get a fat man into a budget airline seat but with the aid of a healthy dose of adrenalin and, with bark removed from arms, legs and back, he found himself clinging to the shower hose above a drop into pitch darkness. What was below he couldn’t tell though he did know there was broken glass down there. He was now committed, he let himself go….

Only a foot onto flat concrete - thank goodness and somehow he had managed to avoid the broken glass but relief was short lived, was this out of the frying pan and into the fire? The back wall of the hotel loomed above him (thank goodness he wasn’t on the second floor - there would have been no way out from there) but set parallel to the back wall of the hotel and only about 75 cms from it was a two and a half meter concrete wall with jagged pieces of broken glass set into the top.

Surely I can get out at the end he thought. He stumbled through the darkness only to find a blank wall blocking off the end of this narrow passage. Turning the other way he found the same result, a concrete wall blocking off any means of escape. There was only one way out - to climb over the wall.

He managed to find a flimsy plastic drain pipe. He threw the shower curtain over the top of the wall to provide some little protection and shinned up the pipe managing to get to the top of the wall. Looking over all was in darkness, he could vaguely make out some rough ground and what looked like fetid water with the expected rubbish lying around in it. Once again there was no going back and he jumped barefooted into god know’s what. His luck was in and he landed on soft mud. He wrapped the curtain around himself and set off wading through festering muddy pools to reach a rough road. A passage through a building site lead him finally around to the front of the hotel.

Somewhat filled with a touch of displeasure at his recent adventure and still clutching the shower curtain to hide his personal attributes he burst into the hotel lobby politely awakening the eager and willing hotel receptionist and his friends who were sprawled around on the floor in a deep slumber.

A new bathroom was demanded so he could continue the morning ablutions then, twenty minutes later and with a sense of urgency to get to the airport, he insisted that he would not be paying for the room.

This did not go down well, the manager had to be sent for. He was just a tad uncooperative and, exhibiting the well developed sense of hospitality very commonly found amongst hotel owners in the Eastern islands of Indonesia, he made a fairly insistent request that the damage to the bathroom had to be paid for. A polite interaction, somewhat intensified by an approaching aeroplane, resulted in a small part payment and our hero was finally on his way to the airport.

So what is the point of this long story?

In a word - Escape.

Can you get out of your house if you need to? We all spend our time thinking of increasing levels of crime and how to increase security around our home but it is important to balance the need for security with the ability to escape.

We build high walls around us and put bars on our windows but inadvertently we could be creating serious problems possibly even a deathtrap for ourselves.

I always remember the story of a woman in a house in Australia who was terrified of intruders and had bars put on all the windows and doors of her house. One day someone got in, she couldn’t get out, she didn’t survive.

What if you have a fire? I was recently involved in a series of projects involving commercial buildings. When it came to fire escape the architects had totally missed one of the most basic requirements for commercial buildings. These were buildings with many rooms and corridors but only one external door. Additional doors had to be added at the other end of the buildings to allow for escape in case of fire.

This may lead us to consider how many of the hundreds of hotels and villas on this island have adequate fire escape arrangements.

To return to the point it might be a good idea to take a close look around your house and at each room. Carefully consider all the risks that could happen - an intruder, a fire, a broken lock or handle, an earthquake, flood, run out of toothpaste or even a Tsunami.

Ask the question how would you get out if you had to? Consider the detail, a general plan might work but can be stopped by a single ill considered factor. Is there anything available that might be used to break the windows or lever a door open?

As the story suggests it is also important to consider full escape routes, you might be able to get out of a window but think about where it would lead. You don’t want to find yourself trapped on a roof with a fire below you and you certainly don’t want to find yourself trapped in a space such as a walled yard that you cannot get out of.

You might also consider the people that might have to get out. Disabled people, children or people who have eaten one or two too many cream buns (there are a lot of people like that around these days) might not be able to climb through a small window and that drop from the second floor onto concrete might not be survivable.

If, like the residents of Colditz, you plan a tunnel you need to make sure there is a shovel available and a soft bit of floor you can dig.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2014
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

5 September 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
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