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What do you take with you during a fire evacuation

Author: Charlie Maclean-Bristol

This week Charlie talks about fire practices and what people should take with them.

I have a favourite exercise ‘outside now’ which involves setting off a fire bell during a business continuity training session and taking students outside, as if they have just been evacuated due to a fire. Once outside we get them to consider the actions they would take in response to the fire. One of the questions I ask them is ‘who has their phone, car keys, house keys, wallet/handbag and their travel passes? I have noticed that over time people have become better at taking their phones with them but often many of the other things are left behind. Some come out with coats but many are in their shirt sleeves. Part of the exercise is to stay outside until they get cold, making the point that they need to get staff to a “place of safety” relatively quickly. Staff can then get out of the cold and be located until a decision is made whether to send them home. 

As part of the exercise there usually ensues a debate about what you should take with you during an evacuation. Most people are told to take nothing with them and to evacuate immediately. Others say that you can grab what is within arm’s reach, and all agree that you should never go back to where your positions are to retrieve them.

The question boils down to ‘what should you take with you’? We had an extra question ‘if you are sitting in front of your laptop should you take it with you’? When I was business continuity manager at Scottish Power I always took my laptop with me during fire drills so that if it was a real incident I had all the information with me (this was pre-Smartphone days) to start to manage the response. 

Taking a laptop with you means that it is one less laptop for IT to purchase and rebuild and means you may be able to access the corporate system from home or from another office. The counter argument, which many organisations voice to me, is that if all staff have their laptops and other possessions in their hands they could slip and hurt themselves and at the same time perhaps block the evacuation route.  If you start to take laptops what else might people want to take with them, favourite pictures, beloved plants, the list could be endless.

To me, a person with their car keys, money, wallet/handbag, house keys, laptop and is suitably clothed for the weather, is a more able to look after themselves and be less of a burden to those managing the immediate scene of the incident. 

For many organisations this is cultural and many have strong views on what you should and shouldn’t take with you. During fire practices, which most people are used to, they stay outside for 5 minutes and then go back in. We know that if it is a real fire they will be outside for some time and possibly never get back into the office. Fire practices give people a false sense of security on this part. I think it might be worth having a review of your evacuation plans and see if they should be changed. 

Next time you have a fire practice leave people outside until they get cold and see how many take their coats the following time! 

You may be interested in the following course

BCI Designing and Delivering Effective Exercises course

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