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The Evacuation Plan
Key Questions You Need to Ask

By Boma International


Certain emergencies may warrant either complete or partial evacuation of a facility. A complete evacuation involves the removal of all occupants from the building, with the possible exception of emergency team members. A partial evacuation may involve either the relocation of occupants to unaffected areas or removal from the building of only those occupants in affected areas. Note that this phase deals only with the movement of people. In certain situations, evacuation or relocation of building contents may be called for.

The initial tasks for the planning team include determining whether evacuation might be required for each type of emergency, whether evacuation would need to be partial or complete and how urgent the need to evacuate might be. These factors will need to be considered together to determine the evacuation scenarios that may arise for each emergency.

There may also be some situations where occupants should not evacuate the building. Such instances should also be identified at this time. In these instances, rather than identifying the means of evacuation notification, the issue will be ensuring notification of the order to remain in place. The following information should be considered in determining instances which events should require evacuations:

  • During and after an earthquake, the interior of a building designed for seismic forces will typically be safer than the exterior;
  • In a transportation or weather-related emergency, authorities may request that occupants remain where they are - or that a staggered departure be used - to avoid overloading available transportation facilities; and
  • During a civil disturbance in front of a building, doors may be locked and all entry or egress activity may be prohibited.

Who Will Order the Evacuation?
The order to initiate evacuation may come from a variety of sources, depending on the situation. For each situation where evacuation may be necessary, the entities who have the authority to initiate evacuation must be identified. In various situations, the decision to evacuate can be made by a regulatory agency, the building emergency team leader, or an individual member of the emergency team. Examples follow:

  • Local emergency management authorities may order evacuation of areas where severe flooding is expected.
  • The fire department may order evacuation of all floors above the floor where a fire is not under control.
  • Emergency team leaders may order evacuation after a bomb threat is received.
  • Floor wardens may order floor evacuations if conditions on the floor deteriorate and communication is unavailable.
  • Any individual discovering a fire should leave the area and also tell other individuals nearby to evacuate. (Note: Other actions may also be necessary, such as closing doors to fire areas, activating any manual fire alarms, calling fire department, etc.)

When Will the Order Be Given?
The timing of the evacuation order should relate to the immediacy of the threat. Some emergencies pose a threat so immediate that evacuation or relocation must be ordered as soon as the situation is detected. Other situations will warrant monitoring and a heightened level of attention, so that if evacuation becomes necessary, it can be expedited. Examples follow:

  • A hazardous materials release may require immediate evacuation of those people within the area of initial release and also of those people occupying facilities downwind.
  • A fire in a high-rise building may warrant immediate evacuation of a specified number of floors to remove occupants at risk and to clear areas needed for fire department operations.
  • A fire in a high-rise building may warrant notification of the incident to occupants on floors not affected by the incident so they are made aware of the situation, are reassured that the situation poses no immediate threat and will be ready to evacuate should it become necessary.

In many cases, the decision to order an evacuation will not be an easy one. The entity responsible for making the decision will need to weigh the inconvenience to those evacuated against the likelihood that the emergency could cause serious consequences. In general, caution should be the guide. Any embarrassment to building management (or local government) resulting from an evacuation in which a potential threat did not escalate to a major incident will be minor compared to the implications that may arise when evacuation is not ordered and injuries and deaths result.

Who Will Supervise the Evacuation?
In almost all cases, evacuation procedures will be supervised by a regulatory component, the building emergency team or a combination of both. Where only one of these groups is involved, supervisory procedures will be fairly simple. Examples:

  • If shutdown of a portion of a building is ordered by management due to a heating or cooling system failure, the building emergency team will supervise evacuation.
  • If a regional evacuation has been ordered, regulatory components will supervise evacuation, including staging, evacuation routes and shelters.

Situations where both regulatory components and the building emergency team will be involved will require the most analysis. Regulatory components should be able to determine what their roles would be for various types of emergencies. It is important to identify the capabilities and the limitations of each group so duplication of effort, conflicts and gaps in supervision will not occur.

Some Considerations:

  • Will the fire department utilize an in-place floor warden system for evacuation, or will fire department personnel be dispatched throughout the building?
  • Can authorities provide personnel to assist in evacuation of occupants with special needs (children, elderly, people with disabilities), or will building personnel be expected to provide such assistance?

How Long Will the Evacuation Take?
It is important to estimate of the amount of time needed for evacuation. The time necessary will depend on a variety of factors:

  • Number of people to be evacuated;
  • Building configuration;
  • Impact of incident on building, including evacuation routes; and
  • Number of people needing assistance.

The amount of time needed for evacuation may affect other portions of the evacuation phase. For example, if the amount of time needed for evacuation exceeds the time available prior to the situation reaching a critical phase, options could include improving detection or notification, or ordering evacuation earlier in the incident.

A closely supervised evacuation will move more quickly than an "every person for himself or herself" approach. Evacuation in a high-rise building without close monitoring will take excessive amounts of time. Certain exits may become overcrowded, which will slow or stop egress, while other exits may be underutilized. Strategically placed members of the emergency team can guide occupants to the appropriate exits, control access into exit stairs to prevent overcrowding, and adapt the evacuation procedures if needed due to changing conditions resulting from the emergency.

The time required for evacuation will also depend on whether a complete or partial evacuation or relocation is ordered. Partial evacuation or relocation should only be considered when one or more of the following conditions apply:

  • The emergency poses no threat to other parts of the facility;
  • Time is not available for complete evacuation; or
  • Occupants in other areas will be able to evacuate later if the incident grows in size.

How Will Evacuation Routes Be Maintained?
The answers to this question should be found among the "building components" that were identified in the initial phase of the planning process. Any component that may serve to provide a safe and secure evacuation route should be included here. Some examples of building components that may affect evacuation routes include:

  • Emergency lighting
  • Smoke removal system
  • Stair pressurization system
  • Fire resistant walls and ceilings
  • Smoke resistant walls and ceilings
  • Exits
  • Auxiliary generator
  • Elevators.

Certain human components may also influence the effectiveness of the evacuation routes. Emergency team members can ensure that exit routes do not become obstructed by too many people leaving too quickly.

Several additional key questions must also be considered when developing an evacuation plan.

  • Who will verify that evacuation is complete?
  • Where is the evacuation location?
  • How long will people need to remain in the evacuation area?
  • What provisions will be needed at relocation areas?
  • How will any occupants with special needs be accommodated?
  • How will coordination and communication of ending the evacuation be coordinated?

About the Contributor
Founded in 1907, the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International, is a dynamic international federation of more than 100 associations worldwide with nearly 19,000 commercial real estate members. This article was excerpted from The Property Professional's Guide to Emergency Preparedness. Published by BOMA International, this 170 page publication is available for purchase by calling (800) 426-6292 or you can order it online at www.boma.org

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