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Evacuation Drills

Do your staff know how to safely evacuate the workplace?

The Fire Alarm has just gone off - What Do I Do Now?

In an emergency situation people can panic. In its most extreme form you get what's called a "fight or flight" response. Your nervous system floods the body with adrenaline in preparation to either run away or fight what's in front of you. Which is really useful if a sabre-toothed tiger suddenly appears in front of you. But in a fire situation it can cause lots of unexpected issues. Such as raising the heart rate, increasing the body's blood clotting function, causing muscle tension tension and tremors, dilating pupils and increasing blood sugar. It also results in some cognitive changes such as people becoming more aggressive, overestimating their abilities and having a more negative outlook on things. None of this is helpful when a situation calls for clear thinking. Or if people have pre existing medical conditions that cannot cope with this increased level of bodily stress.

How we avoid this is by performing Fire Evacuation Drills. Firstly to stop people going instantly into "fight or flight" more. But we also want them to respond in a sort of "brain autopilot" mode, called automaticity. In this they know exactly what to do, because they have done it many times before. A good example of this is if you've ever just driven to work but then can't recall anything about the trip. You were totally in autopilot mode.

Not only does this autopilot mode reduce panic and stress. But it also frees up the brain to focus on more logical, complicated issues. Whether that's thinking about a problem from the day before, tonight's shopping list or exactly which exit route to take if the fire alarm goes off.

What is an Evacuation Drill?

In its simplest form an Evacuation Drill is a rehearsal or "dummy run" of what everyone is going to do if they find a fire. Or the Fire Alarm sounds. But similar to a rehearsal for a play, everyone needs to be clear on what their roles, responsibilities and lines are.

If a play has a script that details who does what and when. Then in fire safety we call this the Fire Emergency Plan. In this we detail:

 - Actions people must take upon hearing the fire alarm
 - What to do if they find or suspect a fire
 - How to trigger the fire alarm is it's not already ringing
 - Identification of false alarms
 - How to contact the local Fire Service
 - What signs are used for escape routes
 - The buildings evacuation strategy (simultaneous, stay put, horizontal, vertical, silent)
 - How and when to fight a fire, and when not to
 - Assisting staff who are disabled and have PEEPs in place
 - Dealing with visitors or the general public, some of whom may also be disabled
 - Which routes are not available in a fire e.g. most lifts
 - How to shut off services such as gas, electricity, oxygen
 - Where smoke vents are and how they work
 - The location of the assembly point
 - The roles and duties of the trained Fire Wardens and Fire Coordinator
 - Performing a head count or roll call
 - Liaising with Fire Service upon arrival
 - Plus any other building specific procedures

All the above needs to be communicated to ALL members of staff as part of their legally required induction training. This is normally called General Fire Safety Training. They need to have this in place on or by their first day of work.

By writing down the process you're going to take in the Fire Emergency Plan, not only does this ensure that everyone is working to the same plan. But also that you can later compare the plan to what actually happened in the evacuation drill and then seek to improve the plan further. As we said at the beginning, in emergency situations, people can behave in irrational ways such as freezing, panic, ignoring alarms or evidence of fire, "following the crowd", collecting belongings, rushing or pushing through exits, ignoring safety procedures or simply assuming someone else is go to tell them what to do.

How often do we need to run an Evacuation Drills?

Evacuation Drills should be carried out as a minimum every six months.  Though if it's the first time you've done one then it's a good idea to run them monthly until you iron out all the issues that come up in each drill.  

After each drill the Fire Coordinator, Fire Wardens and ideally all Responsible People should meet and review how the drill went, what went wrong, what went right and how future drills and the Fire Emergency Plan could be improved.

We fully understand that drills cause downtime in business.  And no one wants to be standing in the rain at the assembly point on a cold Tuesday morning in November.  But safety is important and unfortunately you can't predict how people will respond to a fire.  So unlike other safety documents, with fire, you can't simply get people to read it and expect them to respond as instructed.  Your staff might thank you for it later!

How can Fire Safety Specialists help with Evacuation Drills?

Firstly we can, following a Fire Risk Assessment, create a comprehensive Fire Emergency Plan bespoke to your building and the people and equipment within. This forms the basis of all your Evacuation Drills. Next we can attend and assess your drills and make suggestions as to how to improve it. Or what might need to be changed within the building to facilitate a better evacuation. We can help with extra training for Fire Warden or Fire Coordinators so that they can perform their duties better. But also its worth considering having multiple people trained for each role to provide cover for illness, holidays etc. Finally, for locations where drills have been performed regularly for some time. We can help with scenarios to make people think more logically and respond to issues. So consider adding in:

A box or large sign to simulate a fire in a certain area
As above but blocking the main escape route forcing people to use an alternative route
A casualty on the second floor and how to evacuate them
How to identify a false alarm
Performing a roll call
Role playing to simulate the Fire Service arriving and what information they will need

Here at Fire Safety Specialists, we can schedule and design your evacuation drills. We are trained to look out for the things you could miss and ensure that named individuals, acting as Fire Wardens, undertake their additional roles correctly.

Should things not run smoothly we can discuss with you what additional procedures, training, or changes in the premises need to be made to ensure that everyone gets out safely without injury, or worse!

Let us take the hassle and stress away from you. Let your team blame us for the disruption. It will be you they thank in the long run.

If you would like to discuss Evacuation Drills or any other requirements you may have, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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