That’s the view of Professor Ed Galea, Director of the university’s Fire Safety Engineering Group and a world expert on evacuation and the subject of how people behave in emergencies.
Professor Galea featured in the Channel 4 documentary, Terror at Sea: The Sinking of the Costa Concordia, which was broadcast on Tuesday, 31 January. He stated that both stages of the evacuation process on the stricken liner – the assembling of passengers, followed by the abandoning of the ship – did not happen quickly enough.
“Very soon after hitting the rocks, it would have been prudent for the captain to start the assembly process. Every second can literally make the difference between life and death,” he said.
Professor Galea was critical of the current regulations regarding safety drills on cruise ships, which sometimes allow passengers to be at sea for up to 24 hours before they take part in these sort of exercises. “The assembly drill needs to be done before the ship leaves port. It’s almost a no-brainer. Having people running around on board ship in an emergency situation without having done the drill is a recipe for disaster,” he said in the documentary.
It has been confirmed that 17 people lost their lives after the ship ran aground off Italy on 13 January, with a further 16 people still accounted for. Italian divers recently abandoned their search for bodies inside the wrecked ship after conditions underwater deteriorated.
Professor Galea also said in the programme that it appeared that passengers “lost confidence” in those in charge of the Costa Concordia evacuation. “The people managing the evacuation process need to be seen, and perceived, to be in control and to have information at their disposal that is gong to help the passengers,” he said.
Professor Galea’s projects have included studies of the World Trade Center evacuation and the 7 July London bombings. He currently has two EU-funded Framework 7 projects concerned with passenger ship evacuation.
In recent weeks his expert analysis of the evacuation of the Costa Concordia has been sought by a range of national and international broadcasters including Sky News, BBC News, ITV, ABC America and ABC Australia.
In these interviews he has stressed that lives could have been saved if the evacuation had started much sooner.
The university’s Fire Safety Engineering Group is a world leader in computational fire engineering. It has unparalleled expertise in aircraft, building, ship and rail evacuation and fire modelling, with its team of experts undertaking a unique combination of leading-edge research, large-scale human factors trials and practical real world consultancy.
The group also works across disciplines, bringing together mathematicians, physicists, behavioural psychologists and computer scientists.
The Fire Safety Engineering Group is currently working on a European Union FP7 project called SAFEGUARD, which is analysing ship evacuation procedures and aiming to improve international regulations for evacuation at sea.
Professor Galea’s blog, which includes his analysis of the Costa Concordia disaster, can be found on the Fire Safety Engineering Group’s website at http://fseg.gre.ac.uk/blog/
Story by Public Relations
Picture: Professor Ed Galea, Director of the Fire Safety Engineering Group, University of Greenwich.