How to Develop Your Emergency Evacuation Plan
Every business should have an emergency evacuation plan in place. In the event of a fire, natural disaster, human-related threat, or any other emergency – employees need to know where to go and what to do to best ensure their safety. Developing an emergency evacuation plan may seem daunting, but it does not have to be.
In this step-by-step guide, we walk through the process of developing your own emergency evacuation plan for your facility.
1. Brainstorm Potential Emergencies & Scenarios
What kind of emergency should you prepare your facility for? This is a question that facilities often do not ask themselves enough. Before starting your emergency evacuation plan, it is imperative you explore the primary threats that you may face and need to prepare for.
Furthermore, sometimes a scenario may occur within your facility that is not quite an emergency however can still pose a threat to occupant safety. Understanding that these events can occur despite preventative measures being in place – and being prepared for them – makes all the difference toward resolving them effectively.
What areas of your facility are most prone to a fire breaking out?
Research has shown that facility fires begin in several key spots. These include:
- Cooking areas
- Cooking equipment
- Electrical sockets
- Kitchen utilities
- Rubbish bins
A recent analysis by the Fire Administration showed that cooking was the number one leading instigator of non-residential building fires for the past 10 years. Highlighting these areas of your facility before planning for emergencies is imperative to success in ensuring safety.
Preparing for as many scenarios as possible, however unlikely, will ensure a more secure facility from emergency situations. Ask yourself as many “what if …?” questions as possible to make sure they are covered in your emergency plan. These may include:
- What if we must evacuate hastily, and our backup servers cannot be stored on an external drive?
- What if we evacuate the facility, however not everyone is accounted for at the designated meeting area?
Being realistic and understanding these situations, will mean your emergency plan can clearly outline steps to avoid such a situation occurring.
2. Establish Your Emergency Control Organisation
The Emergency Control Organisation (or ECO for short) are the set of individuals your facility appoints to take on the responsibilities of ensuring occupant safety. Your ECO will be comprised of the following roles:
- Chief Warden
- Deputy Chief Warden
- Floor/Area Warden
Your emergency plan will need to outline who these individuals are, as well as their responsibilities depending on the type of emergency that occurs. For more information on wardens and their responsibilities, read our extended article here.
3. Determine Escape Routes & Nearest Exits for Occupants
Your best bet to ensuring occupant safety is including both primary & secondary escape routes in your emergency evacuation plan. Clearly lay out where occupants should go depending on where they are, making sure all exits, and fire escapes have clear signage for easy recognition during the chaos of an emergency.
These paths and escapes must always be kept clear of any furniture or any other objects that may impede an occupant’s means of escape.
If your facility contains multiple floors, then all floors must be included in your emergency evacuation plan. Evacuation diagrams should be readily viewable on each relevant floor for both occupants and wardens during emergencies.
Evacuation of people with disabilities must be considered. For these individuals, facilities must develop a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (PEEP) which detail the route the individual can take to ensure safe evacuation.
Once your occupants are out of the building, where do they go?
Emergency evacuation plans must include a designated assembly point for occupants and ECO members to gather when they have evacuated your facility. This is also the area where headcounts can be conducted to ensure all occupants are present.
Make sure to also confirm your facilities escape routes, and the assembly area can accommodate the expected number of employees who will be evacuating. This may require furniture be either adjusted or removed from a particular area, or other accommodations are needed.
4. Develop Communication Plan
During fire drills and evacuations, having an individual act as a communication liaison to disseminate information to fire or emergency services is vital. The Chief or Deputy Chief Warden is given this responsibility, however if they are not available on the day, any other occupant can be specifically appointed.
Once this person has been appointed, it is imperative you provide them with a multichannel communication system. This kind of a system will let the communication liaison not only contact authorities, but also inform all occupants of your facility the emergency is currently occurring, and evacuations must take place.
Once your system is set up, make sure you inform the appropriate stakeholders of how the solution works, when it will be used, and what actions they should take when they receive a notification from the system.
5. Re-Evaluate Your Equipment
When was the last time you replaced your fire extinguisher or any other fire-fighting equipment?
Fire-fighting equipment is the most important thing to have access to during a fire emergency. By regularly inspecting these pieces of equipment and replacing them when they are faulty, ensure they are ready for use when least expected.
It is recommended you refill your reusable fire extinguishers once every 10 years at a minimum and replace your disposable extinguishers once every 12 years.
On top of maintaining your equipment, make sure you periodically re-evaluate the equipment you have available. Are there are any other better alternatives that better ensure occupant safety compared to your current solutions? Keeping up to date with alternatives can be extremely valuable during emergencies.
Other equipment to keep track of include:
- Emergency lights
- Fire alarms/systems
- Escape ladders
- Public Announcement (PA) systems
- Fire doors
Finally, try and ensure your occupants are educated about the use of office equipment to ensure their emergency evacuation. Equipment such as file cabinets and office chairs can be used to break through windows or knock down doors in case they are blocking escape routes.
6. Perform Evacuation Exercises & Follow Up
An Evacuation Exercise is required annually by Australian Standard 3745-2010: Planning for Emergencies in Facilities. To remain compliant with this standard, ensure you are performing these evacuation exercises which help occupants prepare for evacuation.
These exercises are also a fantastic opportunity for ECO members to practice their roles and responsibilities in a less chaotic environment compared to a real emergency. This can prove crucial should the situation arise where these skills are required.
Your emergency evacuation plan is a crucial piece of your emergency preparedness. We hope that this guide provides clarity of what your facility requires in its own plan.