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 (www.nfpa.org), headquartered in Quincy, MA.