When you are in an emergency, quick action is essential. The Interactive Emergency Evacuation Guidebook states that “Panic can occur under very specific circumstances such as in a fire in a crowded and confined building with inadequate exit routes.” Having an evacuation plan in place can make the difference between life and death for the occupants of a building. Emergencies are stressful situations; planning ahead of time can eliminate much of that stress. An emergency evacuation plan should include appropriate procedures for various scenarios and should be practiced regularly. Your evacuation drills should be supervised by someone who can help you to make them as efficient as possible, such as a fire safety professional. Aside from potentially saving lives, having an evacuation plan in place is a legal requirement for business owners.
Elements of an Emergency Evacuation Plan
Buildings should have signs in place that describe evacuation procedures; these should be posted in conspicuous locations. There should be maps that illustrate exit routes and the way to assembly points. In an emergency, evacuating mobility-challenged workers from upper floors of a multistory building can be problematic. It is important to make evacuation of these individuals a part of your drills. Alarms are another important element; they should be regularly tested and the appropriate ones should be sounded in the event of an emergency. Additionally, you should also include the use of equipment such as emergency evacuation chairs in your practice scenarios.
Guidelines for Making Emergency Evacuation Maps
• Make the maps easy to follow; the ideal map is one that an individual can look at and understand quickly
• Show only the elements that are important for aiding the escape of a building’s occupants; the important elements include:
o The layout of the property
o The map’s location (so that the person reading it can know where they are in relation to exit points)
o The assembly points
o The location of fire extinguishers and first aid kits
• Display evacuation maps at the points within a building where traffic is highest.
• Ensure that fire exits, hallways and stairs remain free of blockages; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that exits have a one-hour fire-rating if they connect to fewer than three stories and a two-hour fire rating if they connect to more than four
Have Emergency Evacuation Equipment in Place
Your emergency equipment should consist of those items that will be useful to your building’s occupants in the event of an emergency. These items should be kept in a prominent place where they can be quickly accessed. Useful items for emergencies include:
• Emergency Evacuation Chairs
These chairs can be used to help those who are injured or who have difficulty with mobility descend stairs and fire escapes in a crisis. Emergency evacuation chairs come with handles and a track that makes controlled descent easy and comfortable.
These simple tools can be lifesavers in an emergency where there is no electricity to power the lights in your building. Power is the first thing to go in many emergencies. Being able to see where you are going is one of the most important parts of a safe emergency evacuation procedure. Your flashlight should be durable and reliable. A good LED flashlight can provide you with a powerful beam and long battery life.
• Special Safety Gear
Depending on the nature of your organization, special equipment may be necessary for a safe evacuation. Emergency evacuation equipment may include:
o Safety goggles to protect the eyes of evacuees
o Hard hats
o Chemical suits
The Role of the Coordinator
Having someone to direct the procedure is a key part of an effective emergency evacuation plan. Everyone in your organization should be aware of who that person is and that they will be making important decisions in the event of an emergency. Their role will be to:
• Supervise the evacuation of personnel
• Coordinate emergency services
• Stop work at your facility, if necessary
• Take note of individuals with special needs and who may require equipment like emergency evacuation chairs to exit a building
• Ensure that emergency exits are wide enough to allow multiple evacuees to get out
In addition to drills and the appointment of a coordinator, you should also ensure that you have an adequate number of employees who are trained in emergency evacuation procedures. These workers can assist the coordinator in ensuring safe and orderly egress. One for every 20 employees is a reasonable number to appoint for evacuation duties.
There are many different types of emergencies (both natural and man-made) that could result in your organization having to evacuate its premises. Failing to have an emergency evacuation plan in place could result in confused evacuees and an evacuation that is chaotic and disorderly. A disorganized evacuations can cause injury and result in more property damage than would have occurred had there been a plan in place.
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