Earthquake aftershock: how software glitch trapped Philadelphia court workers

Tuesday’s earthquake shook up many in Philadelphia, but a software glitch trapped some city workers in their building.

Despite an evacuation order, people could not leave floors 12, 13 and 14 of the Criminal Justice Center after the fire alarm was pulled. Deputy Philadelphia Sheriff Joe Vignola said tripping the alarm should have unlocked the fire doors but they didn’t. The elevators weren’t an option since they are taken out of service by the fire alarm.

“The two ways to leave the top floors of the CJC are either through the fire towers, fire doors or the elevators,” said Vignola. “When the elevators were in their standby position, the only way out was through the fire doors, which were not functioning.”

Locked fire doors at the Criminal Justice Center were not the only problem that occurred during the earthquake. Philadelphia Public Property Commissioner Joan Schlotterbeck said some workers never were told to leave.

“When this event happened we automatically evacuated the building, but then there was miscommunication among building and the among the building managers,” said Schlotterbeck. “There were people who did evacuate some facilities under my jurisdiction and some who did not evacuate It was just confusion and we need to do a better job.”

Vignola said the software glitch that kept the fire doors from unlocking has been fixed.

First Deputy Managing Director Dave Wilson said the city is reviewing what happened Tuesday to learn for the future.

“We will ask the questions, we will get reports and we will sit down as a group and determine what things we need to change what things we need to do better and do a better job of preparing,” said Wilson.

Wilson said city workers can rehearse and drill over and over, but he said weaknesses in the emergency plan are exposed more clearly by a real incident such as Tuesday’s quake.

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