Businesses, such as restaurants, schools, and motels, must have very clear and easy to understand evacuation procedures in case an emergency occurs. A written and fully implemented Emergency Action Plan is needed, outlining specific responses based on foreseeable emergencies, such as fires, chemical releases, earthquakes, and weather-related issues. No one should remain in the building if the need for an evacuation is announced. In some emergencies, evacuation is not the desired action, such as in earthquakes or weather-related events. Specific procedures need to be outlined and drills conducted to assure all understand the necessary actions when emergences occur.
Each room must have a clearly visible, exit route map with instructions. When training for an emergency evacuation, the organization must have a clear protocol in place to prevent a chaotic situation.
Emergency alarms such as “emergency pulls” must be clearly marked. Pulls must be connected to an approved alarm system. The alarm should include sound and flashing lights to alert hearing-impaired and sight-impaired people. If the alarm system is engaged by smoke or fire, or activation of the sprinkler system, the Emergency Action and required eavacuation procuidres need to be activated.
In case of a loss of electricity, emergency lighting is vital. Windows and skylights provide natural light during the day, but battery back-up or generator-powered lighting is also necessary to assure a safe evacuation. During periods without electricity, elevators should not be used. Therefore, signs must be posted by elevators to alert people not to use elevators during emergencies. If someone is in an elevator when the power goes off, the elevator should be equipped with an intercom so that trapped passengers can call for help.
Exiting and Assembly
Make sure that all main doors open outward to prevent people from getting trapped inside the building. If doors open inward, people have to move backward to make room for the door to open, which could be impossible in a crowded situation. All exit pathways should be marked with illuminated signs. Floors and stairwells should be labeled with floor numbers. Make sure to have provisions in place to assist anyone who needs help evacuating.
Assembly points need to be established in safe and designated areas, clearly identified on the evacuation plan and map, and demonstrated when drills occur. Assembly points need to be in safe areas that are away from hazards and upwind from the buildings or hazard areas. After an emergency, or drill, a “head count” is required to assure the evacuation was successful and all people are accounted for. This information needs to be communicated immediately to the designated person in charge (the Incident Commander). Only trained and properly equipped personnel (e.g., fire company staff or a fully functional fire brigade) are allowed to enter a building to perform a rescue.
There is no better way to identify areas where improvement is needed other than to do drills. Likewise, drills provide an excellent training opportunity. These should be documented and performed as frequently as needed to assure all staff understands their responsibilities under various emergency scenarios.
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