How to Establish An Emergency Evacuation Plan

Whatever the size or nature of a business, every employer needs to have an evacuation plan in place in case of an emergency. This way, an organization can prepare for the unexpected and help everyone on a site escape from a threat through a defined set of procedures that detail the safe evacuation of a building. By considering various scenarios that may arise, however unlikely they may seem, the worst-case scenario can be prepared to protect both employees and visitors from a dangerous situation. 

An emergency evacuation plan will contain everything from defined exit routes that lead to designated safe areas to a set of rules which should be followed by everyone in a certain situation. Whether planning for natural disasters such as floods and earthquakes, a fire or gas leak explosion, or a terrorist incident such as a bomb threat or active shooter, all scenarios need to be accounted for so a business can prepare for the worst and know how to best handle the situation with more clarity.

What Should Be Included In An Emergency Evacuation Plan?

Consider the threats

Every workplace has more prevalent threats in comparison to others, but in general, an evacuation plan will often follow a similar path. The possibilities of emergencies should be evaluated and then the threat of this occurring should be considered also, analyzing both the nature of the industry and the external factors. For example, if a site is built on grounds that are prone to flooding, the threat of extreme weather poses a higher risk so it needs to be evaluated whether building reinforcements or additional shelters are needed.

Identify safe areas

Before putting procedures in place, consider what is already available on site. Analyze the areas which could be used to get a safe distance away from different threats and whether they need additional work to make them into a ‘safe area’. The first question to ask is whether all employees and/ or visitors on site will fit in the area safely, with everyone being able to reach the area promptly and access it without delays from overcrowding in small walkways. Further considerations to make include whether the area is sufficiently lit, whether it is easy to locate, and whether it is easily accessible for emergency vehicles if needed.

Define exit routes

Now that a safe space has been established, determining the best exit route will allow everyone to evacuate most quickly and efficiently. To prepare for all scenarios, a minimum of two exit routes are necessary in case of a blockage and these should be on different ends of the building. To check whether the planned route is suitable, conduct a practice to establish if large numbers of people can exit in an orderly fashion and whether the doors on the route open in the correct direction and are unlocked at all times.

Assign emergency wardens

To ensure the evacuation plan runs smoothly when needed, one or more workers should be given the responsibility to oversee the evacuation. In larger organizations, various roles will be allocated to ensure those who have undergone specialized training can work together to handle the situation in the best way possible. Evacuation officers are responsible for making key decisions, coordinating with emergency services, and checking if people have been left behind; with backup officers needing to be available if one is not on site.

Establish a headcount process

Especially for larger organizations or those who have regular guests on-site, knowing that everyone from the building has safely evacuated is paramount. Protocols should be put in place that state how this should be checked promptly, allowing emergency services to get an accurate understanding of the situation. Many companies have a check-in / check-out system that allows wardens to carry out head counts, whether this is based on a written register by reception or a digital system that employees use to swipe their identification cards.

Employee training

Once an evacuation process is in place, it will be no use if all employees are not aware of how to follow it. Regular training should be carried out to ensure both existing and new employees are aware of the emergency evacuation plan, with frequent drills being carried out to practice for any future incidents. Written instruction should also be available, with many businesses printing laminated emergency evacuation instructions which are attached to doors throughout the building. Emergency exits and evacuation routes should also be well signposted, being visible both night and day.

Review the evacuation plan

A business is forever changing so this needs to be accounted for in the evacuation plan, regularly reevaluating the process as and when needed. If an influx of employees is hired, building work is carried out, or additional threats are posed, a look back on the existing evacuation plan should be carried out to establish whether it is still effective. Any revisions should be communicated to all employees and any documentation updated accordingly.

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