5 Reasons To Say No To The Fire Drill

“Poor planning on your part

doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part.”

It happens to all of us at some point.  You are working hard through your day, when suddenly, the figurative fire alarm goes off.

A co-worker or a client suddenly needs something immediately.  It is an emergency. We all have to stop what we are doing and deal with the fire drill.

Suddenly, everyone is scrambling to address the issue at hand and all other tasks go out the window.

Bring on the Fire Drill

So, begins the “fire drill.”  You know what happens next.  All other priorities get pushed aside.  Work in progress gets stopped.  Far too many people end up involved in extinguishing the hot situation.  How often do these fire drills interrupt your day?

If you are like most, fire drills are a common occurrence in your workplace.

But, what would happen if you chose to say no to the fire drill? Would the earth stop spinning?  Would you lose your job?

Let’s consider5 Reasons To Say No To The Fire Drill…”

1 – The Emergency is Not an Emergency

“I need it now.”  “It is overdue.”  “We have a serious problem.”  These seem to be common statements in our fast-paced work environments.

But, is this really the case?  Many so-called fire drills are not really that important.  In fact, they may only be the individual’s desire to get something done.

Before you let one of your colleagues interrupt others’ productivity, ensure that the situation is truly important.  Otherwise, you may be facing a case of a co-worker “crying wolf,” or even worse, selfishly putting their priorities ahead of everyone else’s.

2 – The Fire Drill is Worse Than the Fire

Many people panic when a fire drill happens.  All current work gets dropped and much time is lost running around figuring out how to deal with the issue.  But, we often forget about the impact of all the work that gets derailed.  How many other balls got dropped as a result of the fire drill?  What is the cost in time and money?

Sometimes, putting out the fire actually costs more than the fire itself.

Does it really makes sense to incur the cost if the solution is worse than the problem? I have seen a dozen executives locked in a meeting room to debate a minor issue. How much did that cost in lost opportunities, but also in $/hr?

3 – Putting Out the Fire Covers up the Lesson Learned

Sometimes the efforts to put out the fire covers up the lesson to be learned.  Often, what caused the fire drill in the first place is lost during the subsequent efforts to extinguish the fire.

Sometimes you don’t have a choice but to address the hot issue immediately.  However, try be aware of the lesson to be learned from the situation.  If improvements can be made as a result of the situation, you can prevent it from happening again in the future.

4 – Sometimes Things Need to Fail

This is tough, but true.  Sometimes things need to fail.  And people do too.

Many companies are guilty of constantly covering up their problems.  Their reactions cover up the failures in either process or people that are causing the problems.

If things do not fail, they do not get addressed.  If a broken process is constantly worked around, it never gets fixed.  If team members are constantly doing the work for a failing co-worker, then that person’s performance is never improved or addressed.

Problems that are hidden, or worse ignored, can ultimately lead to even bigger disasters in the future.

5 – Prevents Accountability

During the confusion of many fire drills, all accountability goes out the window.  The team is so consumed with situation, that “how we got here in the first place” is lost.

Even more interesting is that you will often see people taking credit for addressing fire drills that they were directly responsible for causing in the first place!

Consider Before Acting

So when the next fire drill comes up, take a few moments to consider your actions before immediately dropping everything.  Sometimes it is absolutely necessary to immediately jump on the latest fire drill.  However, here are some things to consider:

  • Is it truly urgent?
  • What impact will the fire drill have upon other work?
  • What lesson is to be learned from the situation?
  • Is there an underlying issue that is causing the situation?
  • Does anyone need to be held accountable?

How do you deal with fire drills in your workplace?  Does your team sometimes react to things that are not truly urgent?

Related Posts:

Why You Don’t Really Need it Now

5 Ways to Win With Deadlines

Why Don’t You Finish Early

17 thoughts on “5 Reasons To Say No To The Fire Drill

  1. This is a Big issue in my world! My comment is usually “Your lack of organization does not constitute panic on my part” because I deal with this weekly in my self-employed business. I have been working harder to be a better planner & do-er so the drama of my customers doesn't infringe on my time and concentration. Thanks for this blog, Craig! I have learned alot of great tips.

  2. Brilliant! Common sense goes out the window when fire drills pop up, and I have seen all of your points in action.

    Excellent post.

  3. Whilst this is a good article, it completely misses the point of a fire drill.

    Fire Drills are not time wasters. They are a necessity. Fire kills. Large buildings including warehouses have burnt to the ground in less than 15 minutes.

    The objective of such a drill is to save lives. Not only is it a legal safety issue, it is crucial for any organization that wants to protect its reputation. I mean who wants to work or do business with an organization that killed employees and hopefully not, customers as well.

    The whole idea with an emergency is to be prepared and to deal with the crisis situation in an orderly and organized manner.

    This brings us to a problem situation. If you are an Emergency Manager, do you run an simulation unannounced or a simulation that has been communicated before the time.

    The one is real, the other contrived.

    IMHO it is the best to do the second. People will comply, once they fully understand the reasons WHY, not just the How. I have taken managers with a dubious outlook to the burn unit at a local hospital. Once they visited there, their whole life experience changed.

    Equip people to act positively. Build on rocks, not sand.

    Ultimately, this goes deeper. To be an Admired Company today, to be a Best employer, deserves attention to detail others ignore.

    Ultimately it is about caring. A Company that does not prepare for all eventualities will communicate a message that it stakeholders are not important, and as research shows these days, people want to do business with companies they can trust – even from a safety perspective.

    1. This article was about FIGURATIVE fire drills. Not real fire drills, but ’emergencies’ around workloads and deadlines, often caused by lack of planning or low performance. I think you completely missed the point of this article.

    2. Yup! All fires are the fault of the manager! Sound logic! I like that thinking! Don’t blame the co worker that spilled their coffee on the machine that created the sparks that created the fire.

      Blame the manager because he didn’t do fire drills! Let’s cover up the real issue with fake issues and spend billions doing so!

      1. Woa there. Pretty sure Deon Binneman isn’t “blaming the Manager”, he’s just supporting the idea of fire drills in general. I mean, I still disagree about doing fire drills as often as they’re done. “Intricate concepts” like “walking out of a building in the best way” don’t need to be rehashed every month, but you’re… somehow taking an awful lot out of this comment like it hurt you deeply. Unless you replied to the wrong post?

      1. Fire drills are not necessary

        How often does a fire in the daytime really happen? It’s good to have safety at mind but you need to be reasonable about it and not let emotions take over which is what’s wrong with society.

        Most factory fires *which big ones only happen once every 10 years* happen at night due to someone forgetting to turn off machinery that gets hot and while nobody would lose their lives lots of valuable production gets lost which is just as bad in a business stance per see.

        If you’re going to die then you’re 5 times more likely to die trying to get to you’re job then actually at the job.

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  5. The author has done a decent job of laying out why “fire drills” in the business world suck– but saying no doesn’t really work in a hierarchical organization culture where fire drills are caused, sometimes deliberately by the higher-ups.

  6. This article appears to have been around at least 6 years and is still relevant. I suppose that is the case for all time. But here is a problem it doesn’t address, though it accurately describes the situation.

    You have a co-worker or colleague who ‘fire drills’ everything and it is always simply because he is personally more productive that way, it fits his agenda and then he is boastful about his accomplishments, the amount of work he put through and deadlines met or exceeded. The problem is that he is delegated material things and frequently makes good points in this process, but it doesn’t mean it needed to be done right then or moved up in the schedule and so on and he never gives credit where it is due. So since he frequently makes good points on material matters, you really don’t have the luxury of saying ‘no’ because you never know which event was really material and can’t risk being wrong about that. It’s the Chicken Little Fire Drill you can’t say ‘no’ to. So, the real wisdom I would like, is how do you say ‘no’ to this guy? Once won’t do it. It’s several if not many times each and every week.

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