Since Sept. 11, 2001, governments, businesses and local communities have been trying to identify all possible hazards in order to prepare for emergency planning and evacuation. Whether the effort is called infrastructure preparedness, disaster management, crisis management or emergency response, it means the same thing: Be prepared.
Before emergency and evacuation planning can begin in an organization, basic planning for routine or normally anticipated events such as fire drills and power outages must be addressed. Beyond these routine events, however, planning must take into account all conceivable disasters, including acts of terrorism, gas leaks, chemical spills, collapses, explosions, bomb threats, tornadoes and even workplace violence.
While preventing disasters is a top priority for safety professionals, it's equally important to have a well-developed evacuation plan that can be put into action at a moment's notice.
* Improve crisis management with an effective evacuation plan.
All structures should have an effective method of systematic, safe, fast and orderly evacuation by occupants in case of fire or other emergency. Building managers and security and maintenance people should be given proper training in appropriate responses. In addition, written communication to all occupants should ensure the prompt reporting of emergencies, the response to designated alarms and the immediate initiation of safety procedures to safeguard life until the arrival of the first responders.
* Make planning comprehensive.
Your evacuation plan should be part of your comprehensive fire-safety plan, which has been reviewed and approved by your local fire department or other emergency responders. It should specify a chain of command, beginning with the facility manager and an alternate. Someone trained to carry out an evacuation should also be available after normal business hours when the building remains partially occupied.
* Set up a fully equipped emergency command station.
Designate a safe, convenient location in the building lobby as the command post where the facility manager or alternate will coordinate activities during the emergency. Make sure that emergency telephone numbers for the fire department, police department and emergency medical services are conspicuously displayed at the command post. An up-to-date and readily available list of people in the building who are physically challenged should include their normal work locations (floor and area). There should also be a list of people in the building who are trained and qualified as paramedics, emergency medical technicians or first-aid providers.
You'll need an information kit for use by the arriving emergency services officer in charge. It should give detailed information about the building and its construction and include an up-to-date, easy-to-read architectural drawing of each floor and the location of all utilities, equipment and access routes. Additionally, the kit should provide cell phones, firefighter service-elevator keys, window-lock keys and keys for access to the building's main utilities.
* Organize and train an early-stage emergency response team.
The first moments of an emergency can be crucial in preventing a manageable problem from blooming into a large one. When creating a response team, select members based on their past or present experience, their capabilities, job performance and willingness to serve. Look for volunteer firefighters, employees with police experience and people who've been trained by the Navy in shipboard firefighting.
Two team members should be assigned to respond to the floor below the fire or emergency, to assist in evacuation, provide vital information via radio to the facility manager and help contain the fire. They also can provide pertinent information and direction to the first responders, such as the exact location and extent of the fire or emergency. They should report back to the command station after the completion of their assignments.
* Provide safety information and training to occupants regularly.
Life-safety information can be provided during semiannual fire drills, in periodic handouts, on the company intranet site and through other internal forms of communication. Make sure that emergency team members as well as occupants are trained in detail about what to do and not to do in case of fire.
Everyday team members should be aware of safe and unsafe conditions in their building. Team members should verify that self-closing doors are functioning properly and not illegally locked. They should check that exit signs are lighted and in good condition, that proper housekeeping exists, and that aisles, corridors and passageways are clear and unobstructed, ready for immediate use. Additionally, a professional loss-control consultant should inspect every building annually, report any deficiencies and follow up to ensure they're corrected.
All building occupants should be instructed to always report directly to their assigned assembly point for a headcount. Even if they're in another area of the building at the time of the evacuation, they must report to their group's location to be accounted for. If a full-building evacuation becomes necessary, no one should be permitted to return to the building until the officer in command of the emergency has informed the facility manager or his or her immediate representative that it is safe to re-enter the building.
* High-rise buildings--nonfire-related emergency evacuation drills.
The World Trade Center disaster has made everyone aware of the need to hold building evacuation drills to deal with catastrophes that go beyond the normal scope of events considered by the building's fire-safety plan.
Occupants need to completely understand the differences between "routine" fire evacuation procedures and a nonfire-related, full-building emergency evacuation, and the procedures to be followed for each.
Training in building evacuation must take into account the difference between reacting to an emergency in accordance with the safety plan, and the need occupants will likely feel to evacuate as quickly as possible.
Planning for a full-building evacuation exercise, particularly in multi-tenanted buildings, requires close coordination with building managers and the other tenants. Planners must especially focus on people who cannot walk long distances or navigate stairs because of physical limitations or other disabilities that may require the assistance of fellow employees. All occupants must know in advance the location of special assembly areas remote from the building.
Communication is crucial. Inform police, fire and emergency medical services of the impending drill and ask them to attend and assist you. Also, notify all building managers in the area. You'll need to post appropriate signs both inside and outside of the building to inform visitors and passers-by of the drill.
During the drill, assign additional staff and security personnel to monitor and expedite occupant flow out and away from the exits, and to monitor various locations in the stairwells for occupants in need of medical or other assistance.
Finally, time the evacuation and inform the police and fire departments of the completion and results of the drill.
Hospitals, nursing homes, homes for the elderly, hotels, motels, lodging houses, churches, offices, public buildings, factories, theaters and sports facilities have distinct needs. The building size, number of floors, floor size, location, capacity, type of occupancies and other factors should be considered.
All organizations must be prepared to deal quickly, efficiently and effectively with emergency operations, with the goal of reducing the threat to human health and safety, the loss of public or corporate property, and adverse impact on continued normal business or operations. An integral part of any emergency plan preparation is a preliminary survey to determine exactly what vulnerabilities must be addressed in order to meet the goals of the plan.
No plan is foolproof. Procedures must be reviewed and updated regularly. The final goal is: Be prepared.
is a loss-control engineer with E.G. Bowman Company Inc. in New York, which provides loss-control, insurance and safety-engineering services to businesses, governments and nonprofits.
March 1, 2007
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