When comparing their current plans against best practices in the industry, many organizations realize that evacuation planning is more than just conducting an annual fire drill or posting a map of available exits. As experts in the human aspects of disaster readiness and response, we’ve compiled a list of evacuation best practices, and those come down to four essential elements. After reading our list, can you think of others?
1. Secure leader support for evacuation planning, and communicate this to all employees. The best way to raise employee awareness of the importance of evacuation planning is to have the strong and visible backing of senior management. The CEO’s endorsement, communicated to every employee, as well as his or her direct and visible participation in training and drills, helps put the walk into the talk.
2. Walk the evacuation routes. When told to evacuate a facility, most people will try to exit the same way they entered. This is basic human nature. If on an upper floor, most folks understand the need to avoid elevators, but will still use the stairway closest to the elevator. To ensure the most expedient and safest departure, employees and their guests need to be assigned the exit closest to their work area, and then walk the route to ensure there are no hazards. Walking the evacuation routes has two valuable benefits:
- Establishing familiarity with all alternative escape routes; and
- Ensuring that no hazards are present.
3. Ensure that plans for disabled employees are in place.
Regardless of regulatory requirements, many organizations neglect developing and testing an evacuation plan for employees with special needs. Minimally, keep a list of all employees who have special challenges, develop a “buddy system” to provide them with assistance and practice evacuating these colleagues.
4. Have accurate floor plans available for first responders. Remember that first responders are entering an unfamiliar building, one that may be filled with smoke or debris. Also, they may need to retrieve colleagues who were last seen in specific locations. Providing a facility map is a valuable tool in assisting these public safety professionals in saving lives and effectively managing the crisis.
If you can think of other essential steps for safely evacuating employees, we’d love to hear from you. After all, there are always exceptions to rules and each organization can face unique challenges in this regard.