Every day around the world millions of people are evacuated from buildings and sites. Sometimes it’s an evacuation preparedness test run; sometimes it’s the real thing. Hundreds of thousands of evacuation marshalls, where feasible, clear areas, go outside, possibly do a head count, and then what? Assume people are accounted for? How does ‘assume’ sit with your conscience?
When it comes to planning for the worst I often ask health and safety managers, evacuation preparedness planners, and HR managers what systems and procedures they have in place that enable them to ‘verify’ people safety after the evacuation. You know, when people are on the street, sitting and waiting in assembly areas. Some able-bodied. Some injured.
Most respond with “we clear floors” and we “do a head count”
My initial thoughts are always: Really? That works? But my polite response is “that’s great but what is the backup plan when the evacuation marshal themselves are not accounted for? What if they can’t clear the floor because it’s not there anymore?
I ask again: “how does your evacuation marshals actually verify who is safe and who is not accounted for?”
Articles and resources like FMLink's Evacuation Strategies for High-Rise Office Buildings provide invaluable insights for employers and building owners. However, few cover off why or how to verify the safety of people post the evacuation. This is despite the fact that most countries around the world have regulations and guidelines detailing employer’s obligations in this regard. For example the California Emergency and Evacuation Planning Guide for Employers states that employers have a responsibility to:
* Have procedures to account for all employees after an emergency evacuation has been completed.
* Take a head count of employees to check person safety at designated meeting locations, and notify emergency personnel of any missing workers.
In Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and around the world there are many similar binding regulations.
Notwithstanding legal obligations, insurance claims, and resulting litigation from aggrieved relatives; surely it is just good practise and common sense to have a system or emergency plan in place to be able to quickly and effectively verify who is safe and who cannot be accounted for.
The golden hour, that short period immediately after a disaster, when life can hang in the balance, is a critical period in real emergencies. If you have a system that’s geared at safety for employees after the evacuation, and that system can help you identify who is missing, then that critical information may help save the lives of the missing.
If you can’t account for ‘Bob’ in Marketing and everyone knows he was at work today, then advising the rescue team that Bob works on level 2 and cannot be accounted for in any of the assembly areas, may well save Bob’s life.
Conversely, if everybody is accounted for, then the rescue team need not put their own personnel at risk trying to look for your people. They can focus on saving your assets; putting out fires, securing the structural integrity of the site, etc.