Safety, Vilnius style

Article published on Sept. 29, 2010
community published
Article published on Sept. 29, 2010
A situation I got into two days ago sounds like a funny adventure, but in fact there could have been a real danger involved. It tells a lot about the attitudes towards safety of staff and clients even in such a prestigious place like I was in. I started attending a course at a known language school, Kalba.
lt, which is based in the Vilnius Business Harbour (Vilniaus verslo uostas) - a relatively newly-built, hyper-modern steel-and-glass building, which hosts many successful companies (perhaps some not so successful ones too). After the class on the 4th floor, where the language school is, I went into an elevator together with five more people. As we got on, the elevator unexpectedly started ascending. We laughed - there must have been a mistake. The elevator stopped at the 6th floor, then went down to the 2nd, and up again... Now it started feeling like a bad horror movie.

The Vilnius Business Harbour has the most horrible elevators I have ever seen. When you enter the building and walk to the elevators, you must push the button with a number of the floor you want to go to. Then a small screen shows you which elevator (A, B or C) will take you there, and you wait for the right elevator, get in, it takes you to your floor, opens (hopefully) and lets you out. I can tell you, even to someone like me, who has no space-related phobias, this method feels mega-claustrophobic. Inside you only have three buttons: close the door, open the door, and emergency. From the moment you enter the elevator, you have no control of where to go. The elevator is produced by Schindler, like most elevators in the world, and must be very new. But I do not see a single reason why the old method, when you push the button inside the elevator, was wrong.

Pushing the 'open the door' button did not help. We kept moving between the floors, and doors just would not open. The emergency button beeped but did not help. It was not funny anymore. Finally the doors opened on the 4th floor, right were we started. We did not want to risk anymore and finish this adventure as soon as possible (how naive). Let's take the stairs, we decided collectively. A rather unpromising door with the green exit sign was very close. We rushed to the exit and threw ourselves into pitch darkness. Carefully minding our steps, desperately piercing the darkness with cellphones, we moved down the stairs until big windows and street lights, embracing a smoking man outside, brought us relief - we were finally down. Did it mean the adventure ended? Not at all! The doors did not open! The doors from the 1st floor to the stairway, where we were, were locked. Trying to still make fun of it, we rushed up. The door on the 2nd floor was, fortunately open. Female workers, dragging big boxes, looked, however, unfriendly. They told us they are not allowed to let strangers inside. One of us tried to explain the situation - we are stuck, the elevator doesn't work, and the emergency exit doesn't work either. Finally one worker told us to pass, but very quickly. We were in a well-lit place... at the elevators again. There was no choice - we boarded the same devil's machine again. It took us to the 6th floor... Meanwhile I found the number of the language school's administrator. I told her that we have been going up and down, and the door just would not open. She said that some company is moving out, so the elevators are very busy. Before I asked her to call someone, the elevator finally took us to the ground floor and - what grace - opened. We were free.

I do not know how about you, but I could not help imagining a crowd of panicking people, had there been a fire or a bomb alert. The building has 17 floors and 3 elevators. The elevators do not open. The emergency exit does not open. How can such a building even operate?

Of course, the next day I called the administrator of the building, thinking whether I can develop the story into an article (annoyed and a little scared, I totally forgot to take the contact information of the other people, which complicates things). The number given on the website had a name Irina Semionova next to it, but the person I talked to introduced herself as Margarita. Whatever. I told her the story: 6 people, half an hour journey up and down in a closed claustrophobic elevator, 1 locked emergency exit. The administrator told me that due to the move one company uses the elevator a lot. "We are aware of the problems with the elevator, and we are looking for solutions. The elevator really goes to its destination, but it visits other floors before that." So the elevator was not broken, it just... had a character? Regarding the emergency exit, she said that the door was not supposed to be locked, and promised to find out the reasons why it happened. She also gave me a phone number of a technician of the building. I did not hear her pronounce "I am sorry", but she promised to investigate things immediately and get back to me.

Actually, she did it very soon. She said she checked with the staff, and it must have been a misunderstanding. "This is really an emergency stairway. There is a button on the wall, which opens the door. The door only opens with a button, so that passers-by cannot enter, you know. It only opens from inside.Perhaps you didn't see it," she explained. "Perhaps because it was too dark?" I asked, provocatively. Yet the administrator took it as if I was accepting a part of the guilt and sounded relieved, "Yes, perhaps you didn't see it in the dark". Again, let me remind you of the situation: 6 people with mobile phones looking of ways to get out of there. If you think it is our fault, then maybe my vision would convince you: hordes of panicking people who have just been warned of a fire or a bomb alert. If the owner (Nekilnojamojo turto gama) of the building could afford three fancy-shmancy claustrophobic elevators, why would it not afford the simple technology which allows doors to easily open from inside without a key, but locks it from the outside? My office has it, it works well.

Needless to say, buses could have been missed and children could have been not picked up from kindergartens on time. And who would even calculate the damage to our mood that night (fortunately none of us was in this situation alone, and I even had the phone number of the language school administrator). The building administrator did not say anything like "We are terribly sorry, we take utmost care of our clients, and I will personally make sure this will never happen again." I guess she thought it is good enough if she does not express any annoyance with someone daring to challenge her, and wished me a nice day.

So, in case you have a business, care about the safety of your staff and clients and still consider renting an office at Vilnius Business Harbour, maybe you can better convince the managers to take such issues into account than I can.