While thinking a lot about dependencies and disaster plans, I started noticing the fire escapes that are a staple of New York City buildings. The result was a talk called The History of Fire Escapes.

Video: https://www.infoq.com/presentations/history-fire-escapes-resilience

InfoQ interview: https://qconnewyork.com/ny2018/ny2018/keynote/history-of-fire-escapes.html


When a datacenter goes offline, a server gets overloaded, or a binary hits a crashing bug, we usually have a contingency plan. We reduce damage, redirect traffic, page someone, drop low-priority requests, follow documented procedures. But why do many failures still come as a surprise? In this talk, we look at some real life analogs to preventing and managing software failures. Fire partitions. Public safety campaigns. Smoke alarms. Sprinkler systems. Doors that say “This is not an exit”. And fire escapes. What can we learn from the real world about expecting failure and designing for it?


Free smoke alarm and installation from the Red Cross and FDNY

If you live in NYC, go get a free smoke alarm. The Red Cross will even come install it for you.

American Red Cross Home Fire Campaign

The evolution of fire safety in the city

Fire Codes

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Fire Statistics

Patents to amaze and delight


The great fires of 1835 and 1845

Tenement Fires

The Brooklyn Theater Fire

The Newark Factory Fire

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire

The Binghamton Fire

The General Slocum

Not mentioned in the talk, but worth knowing about.

Software Risks


(The older version of the slides, from SRECon US and DevOps Days NY, is at https://www.slideshare.net/TanyaReilly/the-history-of-fire-escapes)