Challenge: One of Australia’s leading councils needed certainty of compliance for emergency response planning and training across 800+ sites with a consistency of approach across the entire portfolio.
Solution: First 5 Minutes was engaged to implement site-specific warden training, development of Emergency Management Manuals (EMM), Evacuation Diagrams and Fire Safety Audits. First 5 Minutes also provides access to the online portal for complete visibility into compliance.
Result: First 5 Minutes delivered compliant evacuation diagrams for the council’s sites, in addition to Emergency Management Manuals (EMM), ongoing Warden Training and Consultancy Services. As a result, the council enjoys much-improved compliance and, more importantly, an enhanced culture of life safety.
A senior council representative
The site portfolio for this Australian city council comprises more than 800 sites and includes 30 high occupancy buildings.
Audits revealed that some sites had Evacuation Diagrams, some had Warden Training, and others had nothing at all. Some sites had no Emergency Management Manuals (EMM), while others just had a one-page document. It was clear that fire and emergency response compliance was not consistently applied across the sites. There was also evidence that not everyone appreciated the value or indeed the requirement for regular warden training – something the council was eager to change.
This internal push for change coincided with the introduction of stricter legislation which required greater focus on building fire and safety planning in both the private and public sectors. “Now we could push to have a Fire Safety Adviser in different areas. This meant we would have an extra pair of eyes out there and a better awareness of the whole situation,” says a senior council representative.
This growing awareness was one of the major catalysts that led the council, in 2012, to go out to tender for a provider who would help its sites become compliant, and support its efforts to make life safety part of its culture.
Following a detailed and thorough tender process, First 5 Minutes was chosen to provide emergency response planning and training for all the council’s sites, including:
Given the sheer volume of sites that fell into the scope of the work, it was necessary to prioritise the approach. Public buildings, such as libraries or halls, where members of the public would be unfamiliar with the layout were given highest priority – as were those sites that had no evacuation diagrams whatsoever. “It was like asking ‘how do you eat an elephant?’” says the council’s representative, responsible for property asset management. “And the answer is – one bite at a time.”
First 5 Minutes kicked off with a series of audits and walkthroughs, and methodically checked existing floor plans. Within a matter of weeks, the new Evacuation Diagrams – sometimes five or six per site – came together, swiftly followed by EEMPs and warden training. At the completion of the exercise, 100% compliance was achieved.
One of major benefits for the council is First 5 Minutes' online compliance portal. The portal contains comprehensive records they can access around the clock, including signed PDF files, evacuation diagrams, emergency plans and records of meetings and training. This is especially valuable for Fire and Emergency Services site inspections.
“The portal is a massive winner,” explained the council representative. “Often we don’t get notice when a firie is visiting our sites. Now, when I get the call, I don’t have to worry about frantically hunting for records on my PC and printing them out. I can just grab my iPad and go.”
“The portal gives me huge confidence for site inspections. When the inspectors see the records online, they just start putting ticks in boxes.”
To deliver on the colossal task at hand, the two partners established a strong relationship, based on open communication and honesty. “They are like extended family,” says the council representative. “I have an excellent relationship with the whole First 5 Minutes team and it’s been a collaborative approach from the start.”
From the outset, First 5 Minutes appreciated that the approach needed to be very different from that adopted with private enterprise – it is ‘council particular’. This proved essential in negotiating some site-specific challenges. Change can be intimidating and not everyone jumped on board instantly, but the council and the First 5 Minutes team worked closely to ‘win people over’ and help them see the value in emergency planning and training.
Today, staff members love the training. First 5 Minutes is skilled and experienced in making the training engaging and interactive – particularly the hands-on fire extinguisher training – whilst still fulfilling the serious objectives.
With First 5 Minutes on board, the council has made impressive improvements in compliance across its 840 sites. The approach to evacuation diagrams, emergency planning and training is now consistent. And even under the new stricter regime enforced by the Fire and Emergency Services, the council representative is confident they will continue to get ‘big ticks in every box’. With a solid foundation in place, the council can now focus on improving other areas, such as increased warden attendance to ECO meetings.
As it moves forward with life safety at its core, the council knows it has a valuable partner in First 5 Minutes. “I believe we have a strategic partnership, rather than just being another vendor,” said Martin Dunn, Regional Manager, First 5 Minutes. “We keep them informed of what we’re doing, our skill sets, and any new products and innovations that can potentially benefit the council. If there’s a way we can help, we don’t hesitate.”