To evacuate or not to evacuate. That is the question. Isn't it?

To evacuate or not to evacuate. That is the question. Isn't it?

Jul 5, 2017, Article

Please excuse the plagiarism. I doubt The Bard knew much on the subject, even though the original Globe Theatre burned down in 1613. But since you’re reading this, you probably do. Or you want to know more.

If you manage a simple building, it’s likely your evacuation process is uncomplicated. The alarm sounds and people will reluctantly stop what they’re doing and shuffle along to the Assembly Point. A head count will take place, or you use the flexibility and speed of using a sweep process. However it’s managed it’s usually done with minimal fuss or disruption. You find out that Colin has burnt the toast again, and everybody in his department (it’s Marketing, of course) won’t let him forget it for an hour or so. Poor Colin, having again to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. But he really should have learnt by now that burnt toast is bad for you. If it doesn’t get you on the day through fire, it’ll get you in the end through the big C.

But things aren’t always this clear cut. Other factors may impede what should be a simple process. So what could affect the way you evacuate your staff – if indeed that is what you should do?

We have a client that used the lessons learned during the ‘70s and ‘80s when the IRA disrupted London on a near daily basis. To avoid walking from a fire risk into a terrorist plot they used several non-conspicuous Assembly Points. The chosen Assembly Point changed weekly and was advised by internal memo. It made it difficult for anyone else to second guess the location. They continue to use this system today and it still works for them.

Your business may involve certain processes or people which restrict the way you are able to evacuate. At the very start of setting up any effective evacuation system, you need to ask and answer a lot of questions and consider multiple possibilities. Do you have to manage members of the public? Do you work with sensitive information that must stay secure in all situations? Do you have restricted areas which only allow permitted access? If so, how is this managed? What policies are in place for evacuating such areas, and for securing confidential information? Are your evacuation policies written depending on the threat, and are these communicated to the right people? How does your communication work? What failsafe mechanisms do you have in place and how are these tested?

In the close confines of buildings in built-up areas, the ability to evacuate to a safe dedicated space is difficult. If you have to use a dispersal method or your Assembly Point is several streets away how do you stay in touch with your people? Do you have alternative methods of communication if your radio network fails?

The system you adopt may need versatility. Are you exposed to the threat of fire or is there a real and prevalent threat of terrorism? If so, what system do you have in place for carrying out and reporting a bomb search? If you have a stay-put policy how is this managed? Critically, how is this information brought to one place so it is quick and easy to read, assess and respond to?

Do you have a stay put policy or use the option for Invacuation? If so are these zones defined in the building and easy to reach? An Invacuation drill may take a short while but the real thing may last for many hours. It means your team can’t do what they would normally. How do you provide for welfare during extended periods and can you do this from each of your Invacuation areas? Good communication will be key. If you’ve been in a queue somewhere with little or no announcements, you’ll know how quickly a sense of mild inconvenience can develop into frustration, anger, and in some circumstances, outright panic.

Your people will need to know what’s going on, what is expected of them, and who’s in charge. Drills should stress test your systems; simple solutions that are easy to understand will help keep your people aware and informed too.

Hamlet was plagued by indecision because in a chaotic world he reduced his choices to black and white. Be. Don’t be. Act. Don’t Act. But life is rarely like that.

Can you answer the questions in between? Have you even asked them yet?

Martin Reed is Director at TagEvac® Ltd. Emergency Evacuation – made simple.