First know this: you can never be too prepared when it comes to emergencies like fires. Unpreparedness brings panic and chaos. Planning helps bring organization and solutions to a dangerous situation.
The wildfires on the west coast have placed a light on the importance of companies being prepared in case of a fire. A fire evacuation plan will not only prepare your business for fires, but for any emergency. By providing your employees with the proper evacuation training, they will be able to leave the office quickly in case of any emergency.
Take these steps:
Prepare a back-up plan
Your plan does not have to be complicated. In fact, simpler is better. An evacuation plan is most important, as well as which alarms and notifications from your multi-channel mass notification system to pay attention to for in the event of an emergency. The evacuation plan should be easy to read and understand, and illustrated so that everybody could follow it.
The plan should follow guidelines for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration of the U.S. Department of Labor (OSHA). See the checklist here.
Assign a cross-functional team
Having an emergency plan in place is not enough. You’ll also want to have a team in place who can help execute the plan, reduce panic, answer questions and save lives.
- Select the people in your organization who can best put the plan into action. Make sure all of your staff know who is in charge of this plan. This team will assess the situation and initiate procedures. This could include notifying staff, clients, and customers, what and when to shut down (operations) and overseeing the plan as it’s in action.
- This team should be in direct contact with the fire department. An evacuation plan should be familiar and practiced in advance. When the fire department arrives, it should be understood by your team that the fire department would now assume responsibility. However, an onsite coordinator can help direct the firefighters.
Have emergency kits and fire extinguishers handy
Your emergency kits should contain (at the very least) the following:
- Equipment in case of a power outage: flashlights, candles/matches, lighters, and perhaps a generator. Also consider a tool kit containing at least hammers, screwdrivers, and wrenches. A Swiss Army knife is also a good idea.
- Batteries: varied sizes (for instance, AA, AAA, D). As an alternative, you can choose solar-power.
- First-aid kits: we often think of these for minor accidents only, but don’t take chances. It’s better to have a kit on hand than not having one.
- Bottles of water: one gallon of water per person for three days. Remember that water is not only for drinking; it’s for cleaning too. Also keep canned non-perishable food on hand.
- Blankets and tarps: If the weather is bad, you’ll need these as a form of protection.
- Evacuation maps: clearly illustrated and described, especially for those who may be new to your area. Be sure to laminate them and distribute them ahead of time. Conduct periodic drills.
- Emergency contact phone numbers/texts: This list should include the nearest fire and police departments, poison control, physicians, and local hospitals. This could help people in the situation who are new to the space and may not have this information on hand.
Check ahead of time that you have proper fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors. You would be surprised at how many people don’t think to have these items ready and operable for an emergency.
Set a virtual plan for employees
A fire prevention plan in the workplace is not just a good idea; it’s the law. A plan must be in writing, be kept in the workplace, and be made available to employees for review. However, an employer with 10 or fewer employees may communicate the plan orally to employees. However, a virtual plan that can be easily accessed online could be of great help to employees anytime.
Your fire prevention plan must include:
- A list of all major fire hazards, proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials, potential ignition sources and their control, and the type of fire protection equipment necessary to control each major hazard. [29 CFR 1910.39(c)(1)]
- Procedures to control accumulations of flammable and combustible waste materials. [29 CFR 1910.39(c)(2)]
- Procedures for regular maintenance of safeguards installed on heat-producing equipment to prevent the accidental ignition of combustible materials. [29 CFR 1910.39(c)(3)]
- The name or job title of employees responsible for maintaining equipment to prevent or control sources of ignition or fires. [29 CFR 1910.39(c)(4)]
- The name or job title of employees responsible for the control of fuel source hazards. [29 CFR 1910.39(c)(5)]
An employer must inform employees upon initial assignment to a job of the fire hazards to which they are exposed. An employer must also review with each employee those parts of the fire prevention plan necessary for self-protection. [29 CFR 1910.39(d)]
Train your employees to think about fire prevention:
- Keep the work area free of clutter
- Inspect any power and extension cords before use.
Have a back-up system to protect your documents
Both the fire itself and the resulting sprinkler systems could very likely destroy any important paper documents you may have, even if they are stored away in a drawer.
Important papers to consider protecting include tax documents, business plans, contracts, financial and annual reports, leases and other real estate documents, and other specific company content.
To protect these documents, consider some safe alternatives:
- Depend on the cloud. Cloud technology allows you to keep digitized versions of your important papers off site and secure. Even if your computer system goes down, your documents will continue to live in the cloud, no matter where you are located.
- Have a backup server. Even if you use a cloud, it still may help for you to employ a backup server to make your existing computer systems “redundant.” Program your servers to automatically sync file backups, and check up regularly to make sure this is happening.
- USB sticks and external hard drives will download and store your important documents. They’re small enough so that you can grab them in case of an emergency, or you can store them in a safe place away from the office. If your external hard drive were to go down, your documents will survive on these devices.
- Take pictures. Make photocopies of your most important documents and store them in a safe site away from the office.
- Protect your hardcopies. Be sure to store all documents in a weatherproof/waterproof container or file cabinet.
Measure your performance
The first thing you’ll want to do after a devastating, traumatic fire is put it behind you. Don’t, though.
Continuously review your plan. Tighten up the weak links, or the steps that may have caused confusion or were not effective. Coordinate any changes or improvements to your plan with your local fire department (and let them review your existing plan).
Hold regular practice drills. Your staff may change over time, so your new additions will need to become familiar with your plan. Your existing staff will also need periodic reminders on what to do in case of fire. Involve your fire department and ask for their advice. After each drill, review its effectiveness.
If your company is unprepared and unrehearsed for a fire, chaos, injury and death could result. The best way to reduce the likelihood of this situation is to have a plan in place. A fire evacuation plan can be adopted to other emergency situations. Keeping the plan in front of you and your staff, and constantly improving and updating it, could ensure that you will be best prepared for a fire.