Regardless of whether you are located in a high-rise building or one that is less than 75 feet in height, the sound of someone yelling the word “evacuate” or the sounding of an alarm should immediately yield action. What type of action depends upon the preparedness of the occupants and the severity of the situation.
A well managed building should strive to perform an evacuation drill annually. Whether your building is located in an “evacuation zone” or not, a drill helps to identify areas that may need improving in your current evacuation plan, escape routes, emergency plan and perhaps the need to increase floor wardens or block captains.
As an emergency plan is being developed there are some items that can be useful resources for the plan. I suggest a site plan/floor plan that identifies the location of fire pumps, back-up generators, shut off valves, utility information, fire extinguishers, smoke barrier doors, areas that are to be utilized for special needs occupants, areas of responsibility for staff and volunteers, specific evacuation information per floor and the location of stairwells and elevators.
During an evacuation some occupants may be unable, due to injuries or disabilities, to descend all the stairs until the bottom floor and exit the building. A good emergency plan will advise those affected where to re-assemble or meet in accordance with the floor being occupied and their physical capabilities.
Some helpful tips for consideration:
- Utilization of floor wardens or designated staff/volunteers per floor.
- Advise occupants to exit the building using the elevators and stairwells and to stay to the right in the stairwells when exiting.
- Advise those unable to evacuate because of special needs, information regarding the proper person/party for communicating their status and location.
- A designated refuge area that is internal should have a door to block the spread of smoke, a phone for calling 911 or communicating with the fire department, a window that can be used for signaling help.
- Multiple designated assembly or meeting areas, inside the building, outside the
- Use all exits.
- Do not use the silencing of the alarm as an indicator of the “all clear” for occupants.
- Account for occupants and notify appropriate contacts of those known missing.
- Advise occupants of shelters available and ones “pet friendly” if applicable.
A comprehensive plan will encourage people and staff to remain calm and to exit quickly. It will identify special needs occupants and have multiple meeting areas interior and exterior. All exits will be utilized and all important components identified on the site plan/floor plan. Volunteers and staff will have assigned areas of responsibility and information regarding communications and possible refuge areas and shelters.
As an emergency plan is being developed, it is wise and prudent to enlist the assistance of your local emergency management or fire department. When a drill is being contemplated, the fire department should be contacted and requested to assist in the evaluation of the drill. After a drill has been performed and evaluated, record the drill and follow up on items identified as needing improvements.
A well trained staff and occupants is priceless during an emergency situation. An emergency plan expedites refuge and encourages calmness and accountability.
In evaluating the drill some possible questions to ask are:
- Did the staff, volunteers and responders know the building layout?
- Were all exits utilized?
- Did floor wardens, staff and volunteers act timely and properly?
- Were the occupants familiar with escape routes, meeting areas, evacuation methods?
- Did all applicable alarms sound?
- Was the fire department/emergency responders notified timely?
- Were communications with each floor effectively executed?
- Were special needs occupants aware of how to evacuate or actions to take?
- Was there an adequate counting system for occupants?
An emergency situation; whether a hurricane, flooding, tornado, explosion, fire or other peril may happen suddenly without any warning and any hour of the day. Are you prepared? Are the occupants of your building prepared?
Preparedness is vital to a successful rescue, response and recovery process. If your building has not performed an evacuation drill during the last 12 months then I encourage you to consider. Should you desire additional information regarding an adequate emergency plan for your building please contact your local emergency management office or fire department for assistance. Every facility should have an emergency and operations plan and it should be evaluated annually for performance and accuracy.
May we all strive to be better prepared so that we may do the most good for the most people during an emergency incident and minimize risks, hazards and loss of life.
Wendy Murray, FEMV, CMCA,CAM
CEO and President
Associa Gulf Coast
Fort Myers, FL