Keep calm it is only a drill

Oct 6, 2015

This week I was involved in an exercise which started with a practice fire evacuation. For most of us a fire drill involves hearing the alarm, ignoring it for a few seconds, realising it is not going off and then traipsing outside to the muster point in the hope that the weather isn’t too bad. This is followed by people milling around chatting to colleagues and smokers taking advantage of a crafty cigarette whilst waiting to be checked off by the fire marshals. In most cases after a few minutes we are able to return to work and the ordeal is over until the following year.

In looking at the fire evacuation process, which for most of us is mandatory, I thought that we could add a lot of value to the practice without impacting greatly on people’s time.

One of the major issues I see is accounting for people. In most offices and public spaces it is extremely difficult to check people in and out of the building. They may have the ability to do this in larger offices with the use of swipe cards, however in smaller offices you may be checked in but as people go out for lunches and breaks they are not checked out. 

Also, when a fire alarm goes off we are quick to retrieve the list of people in the building – but what if the fire affects our IT systems? Because of this many organisations adopt the system of sweeping the building to check there is nobody left. This needs to be practiced across the board to ensure that someone is checking that all the zones have been swept so this information can be relayed to the fire service. 

Do we ever conduct fire practices at the beginning or end of the day when senior staff members and the usual people who conduct the fire practice are not available?

How do you communicate with staff at the assembly point? Do you have hundreds or thousands of staff? Packing a megaphone in your emergency evacuation kit might be a good idea.

Do you bring out your battle boxes or grab bags to a fire practice or do you leave them in the office thinking it might only a drill?

Given the weather in the UK, if you are evacuating during the winter months, do you have a place of safety where people can go whilst they wait for news? People will not be able to wait outside for long periods before they get hypothermia!

Have you thought about how you will get people home if they have no money, car keys or house keys as they have left them in their jackets or handbags in the building?

Perhaps you may want to extend the fire practice for an extra ten minutes for senior management and discuss some of these issues to give them some appreciation of the issues they would face if this was for real.

You may be interested in reading the following book written by one of our former tutors ‘Emergency Evacuation Planning for Your Workplace: From Chaos to Life-Saving Solutions.’

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