Monday, September 26, 2011

Security Depends on Symbolism

This title paraphrases an article I just read about the degree of security given to various national monuments around the United States. However, I wanted to read the article for what I thought it was going to talk about – symbolism and its relationship to emergency situations.

Now, haven’t you gone somewhere and saw the symbol to something and wondered what the heck it was trying to say? Here are some examples...

Giant snowflake. When I lived in Germany, a German friend pointed at the sign and said, “Look out! A giant snowflake!” Agreed.

Semi-truck-trailer (rear view) on its two side wheels with an arching arrow over it. A truck should be tipping over, but, wait, a force field is making it flip back the other way!

A star-burst with a line straight to a person’s eyes. I think that is supposed to warn of a laser beam or some other light source, but it really looks like the person is shooting lasers FROM his eyes.

The flying deer. Why is it flying? Why not running? I remember the excitement I had as a kid because I thought it was the area where one could see Santa’s flying reindeer. Imagine my disappointment...

The kangaroo. Honestly, it looks like it is barely hopping, yet the deer is shown flying through the air. Having grown up in Michigan, I know deer can jump, but I suspect a kangaroo can out-jump a deer any day.

The giant exclamation mark. Angry? Loud? Cursing?

Door Open/Close. This is the most confusing for me. In an elevator there are two buttons, each with two triangles. One has the sides together and the other has the points together. To me, the sides together looks “closed,” and so the two arrows together look “open.” So, guess what happens when someone rushes to get in the elevator that I am in and I reach for the button to hold the door open.... !

The clarity of symbols is extremely important in emergencies. Symbols need to be fluent in every language and culture. Exits and paths need to be clearly marked. Where to find help or activate alarms should not take Indiana Jones or Robert Langdon to figure out. So, if you are in charge of signs for your family or your community, make sure that they make sense to everyone. The last symbol you need in an emergency is ?

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