BUILDINGS - Smarter Facilities Management


Are You Prepared to Respond to an Emergency?

Take-away tips offer facilities professionals advice on preparing for emergency evacuation

By Linda Monroe


Participants make their way through downtown Chicago during a mass evacuation drill Thursday, Sept. 7, 2006, that officials say is designed to help the city prepare for a terrorist attack or other emergency. Officials said more than 3,000 people took part in the voluntary mass evacuation drill, which organizers staged in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's National Preparedness Month.

The Importance of Alternative Routes
Fatalities could have been minimized—and possibly avoided—in past fire tragedies if facility personnel could have redirected individuals to alternative egress points, says Paul F. Benne, senior security specialist and security discipline leader for Syska Hennessy Group. "When you go into an unfamiliar facility, [it's] a learning process," he explains. "When you leave that facility, you typically exit via the same route. Unfortunately, during an emergency, such actions can lead to a bottleneck and, ultimately, tragedy." Avoid such situations by training building/business personnel to identify logical alternative egress routes and to point or direct building occupants to the shortest or more accurate method of leaving a building. "As part of your regular drills, put personnel in locations that would allow them to communicate such a desired action," says Benne.

Paul F. Benne, senior security specialist and security discipline leader for Syska Hennessy Group, offers tips to help you prepare in the event of an emergency:

Test your communication systems, including telephones, PA systems, radios, and information signage. "Make sure they operate [during] a power failure," says Benne. "Also confirm that telephone systems are capable of dialing emergency numbers—which might seem like a given, but some phone systems need to be programmed to dial less than 10 digits." If you're using two-way radios, establish a protocol and train your staff about how radios should be used during emergencies.

Train an internal emergency-response team that can respond to an incident and direct emergency personnel to the location of an incident. A suggestion from Benne: Position members of the team at every directional decision point in and around the facility so that emergency professionals accessing the property can respond quickly.

Invite emergency personnel to your facility once a year, "and feed them, brief them, and give them a tour of your facility," states Benne. "In the event that an incident does occur in your facility, they will be somewhat familiar with it during their response."

Conduct monthly emergency drills in which personnel, systems, and procedures are tested. "Disconnect the power and make sure phone systems and emergency lighting operate," says Benne. "Doing so on a regular basis will let you know if there's a problem prior to an emergency actually happening." Change the type or location of egress required in a drill, he suggests. "I actually put obstacles or people in the way to make occupants find an alternative route out." (See The Importance of Alternative Routes.)

Offer your facility for annual drills with emergency services. "This is good for public relations, it gives emergency-response personnel a place to do training in a more realistic scenario, and it gets them familiar with your particular facility," notes Benne.

Maintain ingress to and into your facility. Just as it's important to maintain egress points to evacuate building occupants, do the same in reverse for emergency personnel entering your property (both for vehicular access to the building and for personnel access to the building). "That requires constant policing or supervision to make sure that areas are kept clear for response—whether that be for an emergency vehicle pulling up to the side or rear of a building, or if emergency personnel would need to bring stretchers or manpower into the building," says Benne. He recommends doing occasional drills of this nature with firefighters, emergency medical professionals, etc. to ensure that access points will accommodate the different sizes of equipment and apparatus they use.

"Prepare for an emergency," says Benne, "don't prepare for an incident."

Linda K. Monroe ( is editorial director at Buildings magazine.


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