BUILDINGS - Smarter Facilities Management


Real World Response

Save Lives With These Tips On Emergency Response Planning


Life-Safety Resources

An excellent source for the information to develop a master plan is the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), based in Quincy, MA. The NFPA is committed to helping building owners and facility managers protect occupants by requiring the use of fire-resistant materials and systems, installation of fire suppression and alarm systems, and training. NFPA develops and disseminates consensus codes and standards that work to minimize the possibility and impact of fire and other risks. Among the more than 300 codes and standards currently available, you will find documents like NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers, which addresses requirements for placement, handling, and use of portable fire extinguishers; and NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, which establishes building design and construction provisions for different types of facilities. In addition to NFPA 10 and NFPA 101, NFPA’s recently issued NFPA 5000™, Building Construction and Safety Code™ contains provisions for every aspect of the design and construction process associated with buildings and structures.

NFPA also offers seminars on emergency response planning and publications such as Introduction to Employee Fire and Life Safety, which helps building managers and corporate human resource directors set up fire and life-safety training programs.

If a new or updated emergency response plan is needed, meeting with the local fire department is a sensible option to consider. In addition to making sure the building complies with current codes and standards, working on an emergency response plan with your fire department or fire marshal helps to build rapport. In some jurisdictions, the fire department will evaluate your existing emergency response plan and may observe the plan in action during a fire drill. This aspect of building emergency planning has been in the forefront since Sept. 11, 2001.

No one wants to know by real world experience whether a building and its occupants are prepared for a fire or some other emergency. Every facility manager hopes that in an emergency his or her building occupants will respond to the situation appropriately. The way to do that is to develop, refine, or improve implementation of the company’s emergency response plan.

People Involved in Planning

Emergency response plans must have the commitment of the company CEO or president to be most effective because it assures employees and customers that their safety is important. Another key player on the emergency response team is the employee or tenant in the facility because they need to know what is being done for their safety and what actions they are expected to take should a building emergency occur. Other people that should be part of the emergency response team include security personnel, maintenance personnel, and the human resources department.

Develop and Implement

Development and implementation of emergency response plans will vary by building type. In an office structure, for example, most of the occupants will be ambulatory and capable of proceeding to a safe zone or the exit stairs. Most occupants will be familiar with the building layout, be able to recognize the alarm, and know where the stairwells are located.

Hotels and motels have occupants who are not familiar with the overall building layout, so they require diagrams showing the path to the nearest exits. In retail establishments and assembly occupancies, employees should be trained on how to direct occupants to the nearest available exit because exit signs may not be readily apparent. In medical centers and other healthcare occupancies, the staff is an integral part of the fire protection package. Many patients are not capable of exiting the building or moving to a safe area without assistance. In addition, the staff needs to direct visitors who may be unfamiliar with the facility’s layout.

Write It Down

Emergency evacuation plans need to be written down and understood by building occupants. NFPA recommends that written emergency response plans also contain procedures for disabled as well as able-bodied occupants. The emergency response plan should be discussed in the employee manual and presented to new workers as part of orientation. They need to know what the fire alarm sounds like, where the exits are located, and what to do when they hear a fire alarm in the building.

Kirsten M. Paoletti, associate fire protection technician, and Robert E. Solomon, P.E., assistant vice president, Building and Life Safety Codes, are members of the National Fire Protection Association (, headquartered in Quincy, MA.


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