Evacuation – why not getting it right is not an option

Evacuation – why not getting it right is not an option

Jul 5, 2017, Article

Recently I wrote an article on the points to consider when putting together an evacuation policy. It asked lots of questions so it made the reader look at the wider picture https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/evacuate-question-isnt-martin-reed I hope it helped. This article just predated the tragic events at Grenfell Tower. The following week at the Safety & Health Expo at the London Excel we had an unprecedented number of enquiries and discussions on evacuation from businesses and organisations from all sectors. All of these had one common aim; how to best manage evacuation and keep their people safe. The fire and its fallout has, quite rightly, re-positioned fire safety and all of its constituent parts right at the top of Health and Safety with a deserved level of focus.

The re-examination of an evacuation policy in any business is to be welcomed. However such reviews should be done with a measured level of competence and reality. With any business the analysis of historical evacuations should be the first step to understand key issues. Why did the evacuation take place? How was it managed? What were the key outcomes and improvements put in place as a result? Is there a pattern or trend for reoccurring problems, e.g. insufficient or inadequately trained Fire Wardens? Do they need training for a multi-disciplined role as ‘Emergency Responder’ to deal with other threats such as terrorism? Have you practiced a stay-put or Invacuation procedure? If so, how is this communicated? What means and methods are available to help with creating (and maintaining) an effective evacuation / invacuation policy. How is this implemented and managed throughout the business?

Understandably businesses dislike any unnecessary downtime during evacuations. For that reason the more testing an evacuation drill becomes, the less happy they tend to be about it. But isn’t this exactly what should happen? If we are to properly stress-test our evacuation and get valuable and viable feedback we need to do this in ways that work. Vary the time set for an evacuation. If your workplace has a day and night mode then test both to make sure the systems you have work for both. Real evacuations aren’t going to happen at people’s convenience so why should your test be any different? How do you debrief after each test and get the information you need into a simple measurable format. Get the information you want so you can justify the improvements you need.

I hope that businesses really do take stock. We all need to rethink the key purpose for ensuring our evacuations work. This needs to be elevated above the ‘tick in the box’ mentality. Responsibility is needed not only to provide budgets to buy suitable and sufficient equipment and systems but also to allow for downtime, an inevitable cost for the benefit of accurately tested evacuation drills.

And where does this take us? With better and more appropriate funding, evacuations will be seen as a benefit and not a burden. Staff will have a higher level of engagement. Training will be simpler and have real and tangible results. Struggling to recruit Fire Warden’s may be a thing of the past. And with some irony, your now well-oiled evacuation process may actually reduce your downtime after all.

This is the time to take proper and serious action. Not getting it right is not an option.