When conditions outside get tough, where will building occupants go?
Your facility must be ready to serve as a
refuge when a natural disaster, crime in progress, or chemical spill make it too dangerous to leave. But your
occupants may not even know where to hunker down,
especially if you’re not reinforcing the information regularly
or your emergency plans are scant on sheltering details.
Take the Boston Marathon bombing last spring, for example – when the two bombs went off, no one knew whether more would follow. The safest solution for the office and multifamily occupants nearby was to seek shelter inside while waiting for the area to be secured.
Or consider a more recent case in which a few inches of snow and ice forced thousands of Atlanta metro-area children to camp out at school overnight. What could have happened if the schools didn’t have enough food or space available?
Every person in your building should be moved to safety within five minutes of notification that sheltering is necessary, and seconds could make the difference between life, serious injury, and death, says Scott Tezak, practice lead for security and emergency preparedness at TRC Companies Inc., a national engineering, consulting, and construction management firm with offerings in security technology and emergency preparedness.
But where exactly is the safest place, and how can you herd everyone there in time?
When Evacuating Isn’t an Option
Good planning starts with knowing your building’s vulnerabilities, whether that’s a location in Tornado Alley or proximity to industrial areas. Chemical spills from delivery trucks or an accidental release of biological or radiological substances could make evacuation dangerous for a few hours. And the possibility of crime or terrorism – anything from gunfire outside of your building to a mass casualty event – is a concern for any building, whether urban, suburban, or rural.
Shelter in place events typically last less than a day, explains Tezak. But sheltering periods can vary widely within that 24-hour window – active shooter scenarios are typically over within minutes, whereas it could take hours to neutralize a hazardous material release.
For this reason, your emergency plan should cover all possible eventualities.
What Belongs in Your Plan
In the chaos of a sudden emergency, there’s no room to learn on the fly. Protecting building occupants requires a thorough, comprehensive emergency plan with well-defined roles for all departments – not just FM, but also HR, security, engineering, and any others who can help shut down the building and shepherd frightened occupants to safety.
“In the past, buildings typically only had fire evacuation plans,” Tezak explains. “They need to be more involved than that now. They should cover when to leave the building and when to stay, who has the authority and the ability to decide to shelter in place, how that will be communicated, and what can be done at the facility to complement any shelter in place activities.”
For instance, imagine that a traffic accident near your building results in a large ammonia spill from a delivery truck. The section of your emergency plan covering chemical spills and releases should delegate various building sealing tasks to the FM department – someone should shut down the HVAC system to minimize outside air exchange while others should immediately close and lock all windows, doors, and other means of egress.
In the meantime, shelter managers – perhaps HR representatives or the heads of each department – should escort building occupants into pre-designated shelter spaces, likely interior areas with the fewest windows and doors (see “10 Steps for Safe Sheltering” on page 40). Each floor needs an active floor warden to coordinate sheltering or evacuation as required, says Geoff Craighead, CPP (Certified Protection Professional), vice president of Universal Protection Service, a provider of security and life safety services in the U.S.