4. In Control
Prepare for Evacuation
Fire breaks out on the 4th floor. A worker spills hazardous chemicals in Building E. A bomb threat is issued over the lunch hour. Unsuspecting incidents like these can turn humdrum hours into havoc-filled afternoons. Minimize further damage, injury, and loss of life by implementing strict evacuation procedures.
Effective evacuation is contingent on a number of factors:
• Put it in writing. OSHA requires that all businesses with more than 10 employees have an emergency action plan. Make the plan available, and post evacuation procedures throughout the facility.
• Routinely check escape routes and the condition of life-safety products and systems (including fire- and smoke-resistant ceilings, doors, and walls; lighting and emergency lighting; stair pressurization systems; smoke removal systems; exits; auxiliary generator; and elevators, as well as additional products or equipment, that will aid occupants in exiting the facility during an emergency).
• Make building occupants aware of the means of evacuation notification - be it public address system or alarm. If hearing-impaired and non-English-speaking individuals are occupying the building, make sure that special accommodations are made to notify them.
• Train a number of individuals to serve as evacuation coordinators. Instructing occupants on evacuation routes, securing sensitive areas, ensuring that everyone evacuates the floor/area, and accounting for individuals post-evacuation are the evacuation coordinators' responsibilities. A team of evacuation coordinators should be trained in:
• The facility's floor plan.
• Use of extinguishers.
• Proper use of mobility devices to assist the physically disabled during evacuation.
• The evacuation procedures as documented by the buildings' facility management team, as part of the emergency preparedness plan.
• Survey building occupants to assess which individuals may need special assistance during a building evacuation. This includes children, the elderly, physically disabled, pregnant women, as well as individuals suffering from asthma, heart disease, or other medical conditions. Additionally, a list of these individuals should be created and provided to emergency personnel during a crisis.
• For physically disabled individuals, assign a team of co-workers or a "buddy" to assist in evacuation, making sure that these persons understand any special accommodations that are necessary on a case-by-case basis. Also, investigate and invest in evacuation movement aids that enable wheelchair-using individuals to evacuate high- and mid-rise facilities when elevators are inoperable.
• Assign individuals to shut down critical operations during or following evacuation. Depending on the level of immediacy and scale of the emergency, this function may be abandoned.
• Establish a place for building occupants to gather where they will be safe following evacuation. Consult with other facilities professionals in buildings within your area to work out an agreement, and alert them as soon as possible that building occupants will be reporting there. It is important that building occupants DO NOT attempt to leave; rather, if occupants gather at the designated area, an accurate head count will aid emergency personnel in determining if any occupants are still inside the building.
• Consult with local authorities about the facility plan for evacuation. Make sure that a set of documents including a list of regular building occupants, building floor plans, and the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are available to rescue personnel in the event of an emergency. Strategies such as assigning specific stairwells for evacuation, and others for use by emergency personnel can contribute to the safe evacuation of occupants, and the effective ability of local authorities to do their jobs.
• PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE! You know the drill: Schedule periodic simulations that will review evacuation procedures for varying emergencies, as well as full and partial evacuations. Review with building occupants the location of fire alarm pulls and exit points, and provide them with contact numbers and an emergency action plan - at the time of hire, and continuously during their time of their employment. Document drills and the amount of time it takes to fully evacuate the facility.
SOURCES: The Occupational Health & Safety Administration (www.osha.gov); Before Disaster Strikes: Developing an Emergency Procedures Manual, Institute of Real Estate Management (www.irem.org); Are Your Tenants Safe? BOMA's Guide to Security and Emergency Planning, Building Owners and Managers Association International (www.boma.org); Disaster & Recovery Planning: A Guide for Facility Managers (1996), Joseph F. Gustin.