Phila. court workers were trapped by locked fire exits during earthquake

Employees on three floors of Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center had no way to exit the building Tuesday during the earthquake.


Floors 12, 13 and 14 house Judicial offices and have heightened security, including locked fire doors that only release when the fire alarm is pulled. First Deputy Sheriff Joe Vignola said when the evacuation order was given Tuesday, the doors remained locked.


“We determined the building manager pulled the fire alarm from the basement position in the CJC,” said Vignola. “The elevators returned to their standby position. Unfortunately the fire doors for floors 12, 13 and 14 did not automatically trigger.”

The locked doors trapped people in the building. Vignola said a software issue was discovered in the security system and has been fixed.

Philadelphia Public Property Commissioner Joan Schlotterbeck said this wasn’t the only problem.

“We had issues, we made mistakes, there are lessons learned and we need to do a better job next time, and we will be working both with the Managing Director’s Office, the office of risk management as well as the Emergency Operations people for the city to do a better job and update all of our plans,” said Schlottterbeck.

Schlotterbeck said not all Philadelphia public buildings were evacuated, despite an order to do so.

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