panic and patience

Stuck Between Floors: A Story of Panic and Patience

A story of panic and patience.

I recently attended the Florida State University Seminole 100 awards. Capitol Integration was recognized as one of the 100 fastest-growing alumni-led companies in the United States for the second year in a row.

After the ceremony, there was an after-party at a rooftop hotel venue, and to get to the rooftop venue, there was a fairly substantial-sized elevator. Sixteen of us crowded in, “come on in, we can fit more.” How often have you done so yourself and just added one more?

Up goes the elevator for about 15 feet. It stops and drops a foot or so. Screams from several. The person closest to the panel mashes the button to the top floor again, and up we go, again for only about 15 feet. The elevator stops abruptly, and we believe we are stuck between floors 2 and 3.

Help, we’re stuck in an elevator

The elevator occupants are a mix of men and women ages 40-60+ years old. The eldest happened to be closest to the control panel and dialed zero on the installed phone. A person on the other end picks up and asks how he can help. “We’re stuck, say at least ten of the 16 occupants.” Of course, the operator on the other end could not make out the individual voices but understood there was a problem. “Where are you?” asks the operator.

Multiple answers are shouted out. People continued talking while the poor man on phone duty struggled to comprehend what was being said by the operator. The echoing from the shouts made communication impossible.

The operator, clearly not local, continued to ask for details about the elevator to be read from the certificate in the frame few ever pay attention to. Elevator number, name of the building, address, and zip code. It was evident we were speaking to a clerk who would eventually call for help.

“Let’s call 911,” someone suggested. People reach for cell phones only to learn nobody has a signal.

We hear yells from below from revelers also awaiting the next elevator ride to the rooftop bar, “are you guys stuck?” “Yes!!!!” all screamed in unison. “Send for help,” one drunk occupant offered. “Let the front desk know,” said another.

“We’re calling the fire department,” informed the group on the ground.

The elevator was getting quite hot. People were perspiring. Nervous chatter among the most inebriated was echoing relentlessly as drunks spoke louder than necessary in the tight confines.

“If anyone is panicking, let us know, and we’ll make more room,” said another thoughtful occupant.

It was tight and uncomfortable. I wiped my brow with a handkerchief several times from the confines of my corner.

All but one of us acknowledged they had never been stuck in an elevator before. The one who had previously been stuck informed us he had an elevator in his home and proceeded to jimmy open the fireman’s panel. Undoing two screws using only bare fingers, he opened the live electrical panel with the help of another person to examine it.

My mind flashed back to shipboard life and the extensive tag-out procedures required before opening a live panel. This is how people get electrocuted. Some don’t know that the first death of the first Gulf War was a shipboard electrocution for failure to tag-out a panel.

Anyways, Mr. Fixit is flipping switches and pressing buttons in random orders to no avail.

Firefighters can now be heard on nearby floors and atop the elevator. “Maybe we shouldn’t be switching switches while the firemen are trying to rescue us,” said one occupant. It seemed like clear thinking to me.

One woman was determined to be rescued by a firefighter “hunk.” She said, “I’ll gladly let you hoist me through that panel in the ceiling when they remove it.” Another offered, “you think we’re going to do this Die Hard style?” The same woman then directed me to try sliding those doors open. I made a weak effort before the comrade next to me confirmed, “those doors are locked in that position; you’ve seen too many movies.”

It is now quite warm in the elevator after about 40 minutes. While useful for one purpose, the lighting feels like the halogen bulbs are just too hot for the need. Our hot air wasn’t helping.

The floor indicator lights went out. The firefighters were now flipping their own switches. Mr. Fixit informed us that the panel still had power, as we could all see since he had exposed the wire bundles and all the lit-up circuitry for us to see. I can only imagine the shock one’s sweaty hand would transmit if he had touched the wrong thing.

Suddenly, the elevator lights flicker, and the elevator begins to climb to the top floor. Upon reaching the top, the door opens, the cool air rushes in, and the faces of six proud firefighters await our arrival.

It felt great to step off into the cool, open bar awaiting the crowd. What did I do? I texted my wife, looked around at the crowd, and left for the stairs back down to the much-less-crowded lobby bar for a beer and reflection.

What did I observe, and what could I share?

I knew I would be writing this post, so here it goes:

  • Irrational people cannot be led; the inebriation of a few made this situation worse than it needed to be.
  • There is a procedure and process for rescuing a stuck elevator. Professionals know what to do when informed of the situation. They have done it before.
  • There may be a time to initiate your own rescue by “McGyver-ing” the wires of the power panel in the elevator—but we were far from that time and place.
  • When establishing communications, speak with one voice.
  • Remain calm and recognize what is within your control and what is not.
  • On the bright side, and somewhat surprisingly, nobody panicked.

It’s not lost on me that the behaviors of most occupants closely mirror those of company leaders attempting to force their federal sales. Some tend to:

  • Jump in too fast and too aggressively
  • Overcommunicate to the point of distraction to their audience
  • Be overly active and ignore the process that could well ease their path
  • Fail to think through the situation
  • Fail to organize their response and attempt to press every button in random order

What will I change as a result of this experience? I will never be the last to squeeze onto a waiting elevator. Take the next one; you will be glad you did!

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