August 5, 2015

Easy Lessons

Editor's Note: This post is co-published on the Storefront Safety Council blog.

Car crashed into office, Parklawn Drive, Rockville, Md.
(Source: Montgomery County Fire Dept., May 2015)
It’s so easy to think we’ll be coming back when we walk out the door in the morning, isn’t it? As we grab our keys and turn that lock, we say to ourselves, “Oh, I’ll do that later,” or “I’ll make that phone call when I get home tonight.”

That’s what I thought, too, when I left to start what I assumed would be a normal day in August 2008. Little did I know that just a few hours later, I’d get hit by a car as it crashed through the doors of my favorite nearby 7-Eleven. I didn't come through my own front door again until many weeks later, after spending time in two hospitals and two nursing homes.

It would be nice now, seven years later, to just chalk that experience up to a life-lesson learned or a weird fluke that just a few of us experience. But when I heard in the news about a car that crashed into a building recently just down the street from where I once worked, I was reminded that this problem is not a rare fluke. In fact, it’s all too common.

This particular incident wasn’t very different from those you can read about throughout the pages here of or on “An elderly woman smashed her car through a Rockville, Maryland, parking garage and into a physical therapy office,” according to one of the TV news reports.

(Source: Montgomery County Fire Dept., May 2015)
Unfortunately, she injured herself as well as others, particularly a receptionist at the PT office — sitting at her desk doing her work like any other seemingly normal day — who was pinned under a desk and debris by the crash.

Two things grabbed my attention about this incident.

First, on a personal level, it was right in my old stomping grounds, maybe a hundred yards from my former office. So, do I feel like these crashes are hitting pretty close to home? Yeah. Going through it once was one time too many — no need for a repeat.

Second, and more importantly, the fire department public information officer made a seldom-voiced observation to the news media while he was on scene.

He said, “There’s not much of a barrier,” as he looked at the vehicle’s path. “There’s a parking space, a little cement, the sidewalk, a grassy area and then the building. It didn’t take much effort to get in there.”

If by some miracle you, dear reader, happen to be a commercial property owner or an architect, please…read his remarks again. Very little stood between a moving vehicle and an innocent receptionist on the other side of a glass window.

(Source: Montgomery County Fire Dept., May 2015)
I’ll refrain from getting preachy here. Suffice it to say that one of the common elements in most vehicle-into-building crashes (especially those that lead to injuries or deaths) is the lack of any sufficient barrier to protect pedestrians and building occupants from an out-of-control car.

Putting bollards or other appropriate standards-based barriers between people, buildings, and parking spaces is easy. Almost as easy as walking out the door in the morning thinking we’ll be coming back later.

Learn more at the Storefront Safety Council website.

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