Your company or business schedules a range of safety training sessions for their employees’ protection. From general workplace safety to fire prevention and protection, there are many ways your business works to keep your employees safe. One important component of any company’s workplace safety procedure is the building evacuation plan. If your company doesn’t yet have an evacuation plan, or if your business is working to refresh your fire evacuation plan during Fire Safety Month, here are six steps to follow to develop a comprehensive and safe fire evacuation plan.

What is a Fire Evacuation Plan?

A fire evacuation plan is a procedure that outlines what employees should do in the event that there is a fire in the workplace. By developing a high-quality evacuation plan that you regularly practice, you can ensure employees know how to safely and quickly leave the building in the event of a fire.

Six Steps to Develop an Effective Fire Evacuation Plan

Developing a fire evacuation plan doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does require a bit of time from the leaders in your workplace. Set aside a block of time on a day when you don’t plan to be too busy, like a Friday afternoon, and gather key personnel to develop your fire evacuation plan. From there, follow these 6 steps.

01. Establish Roles and Responsibilities

Organization is the key to a calm and collected evacuation. If there is a fire in your building, having a clear chain of command will ensure that the evacuation process goes smoothly. Before you even begin planning how to evacuate your workplace, establish who has the authority to order an evacuation and who will direct the evacuation plan. A few roles to consider adding into your evacuation plan include:

Environmental Health & Safety Manager (EHS)

This is the person who has overarching responsibility for the evacuation plan. This employee will own the planning and preparation of your evacuation plan and will be in charge of establishing regular evacuation plan rehearsals.

In the event of a fire, the EHS is in charge of the fire evacuation plan as a whole. They will check to make sure bathrooms are clear, shut doors behind the rest of those who are evacuating and will complete a final headcount when employees reach the meet-up point outside the building.

Communication Lead

While the EHS initiates the evacuation plan and checks to make sure all personnel are accounted for, the communication lead handles all communication. This person is in charge of activating the mass alert system to signal employees of the fire, calls the fire department, and implements any other emergency communication system your workplace may use.

Route Guides

Route guides are employees designated to help others evacuate safely. Those in this role will help direct others quickly and calmly out of the building.

Designated Fire Extinguishers

If employees in your workplace have received fire extinguisher training, these are the people assigned to actuate the fire extinguisher if the need arises. Remind all designated fire extinguishers that if they cannot bring a fire under control in 30 seconds, they should stop, close the door, and follow the evacuation plan to a safe place.

Floor Monitors

Floor monitors are assigned to do a final sweep of each area to make sure everyone has evacuated the building. Floor monitors work with and report directly to the EHS as they complete a final headcount once everyone has left the building.

You can assign these roles to specific people in your company or to specific job titles, to ensure there’s always someone ready to assist in the event of a fire. Either way, it’s important to distribute these roles evenly across the office, so there’s never an occasion where all responsible parties are out of the building and unable to respond in the event of a fire. It’s also important to regularly remind responsible parties of their roles and have them practice the plan so they know what to do in a time of stress.

02. Create a Communication Plan

Once you’ve established roles, it’s important to set up a clear plan for communication. In the event of a fire, you need to first notify employees, so they can evacuate the building, and then the fire department. If you’re using the roles outlined above, most of the communication plan will fall to the communication lead to execute. If you have a different set of roles for your facility, make sure you have someone to implement this communication plan.

Depending on your workplace, it may also be necessary to share information about the fire to customers, news media, and other entities like community leaders, upper management at your company, suppliers, transportation partners, and even government officials. While getting everyone out of the building safely with clear internal communication and coordination with the fire department, your communication plan shouldn’t stop there.

Once everyone has reached the designated safe space outside of the building, the communication lead should manage the rest of your communication plan. You don’t want customers, deliveries, and more, showing up to your building if there’s been a fire. Your communication plan will ensure that doesn’t happen.

03. Plan the Evacuation Map

The next step is to draw up the actual evacuation map, with primary and secondary routes for employees to escape the building. Before you put your pen to paper, be sure to consider a variety of factors.

  • Where is a fire most likely to start?
  • Do you have a kitchen or break room where a toaster or microwave could start a fire?
  • Is there a server room or space that could be high risk?
  • What routes are most likely to be clear if a fire does start?
  • Do your evacuation routes account for anyone in any location of your building?
  • Where do people go once they’re out of the building?

Your evacuation plan should include enough routes so that if one is blocked, employees can still escape using alternate options. It should also identify where employees are supposed to gather outside of the building. You’ll need to choose a central location that’s far from the building where everyone can gather. There, the EHS will complete a headcount to ensure that everyone is accounted for.

04. Know and Inspect Your Fire Suppression and Prevention Tools

Your workplace should be equipped with a range of fire suppression and prevention equipment. From fire extinguishers to fire detectors and alarms — even your sprinkler systems — make sure you know where your fire suppression tools are located.

If possible, ensure employees receive regular training so they know how to actuate fire alarms and use fire extinguishers. Most importantly, make sure your fire suppression system is regularly inspected and serviced. These systems are critical to the protection of your employees and your business. If your company doesn’t own the building, do your best to work with the building manager to ensure those systems receive regular maintenance and inspection.

05. Practice Your Evacuation Plan

With a plan in place, a chain of command, and a communication plan, you have everything you need to put your evacuation plan into action. Schedule a time to practice your evacuation plan in the office. Make sure everyone understands their roles, and give your team a chance to see how the evacuation plan works.

You’ll likely identify a few areas for improvement in your first few rehearsals — that’s a good thing. Practice your evacuation plan according to NFPA’s requirements to ensure everyone knows what to do in the event of a fire in the workplace. If you’re not sure how often to conduct fire drills according to your industry, see Chapter 6 of NFPA’s Fire and Life Safety Guide for a helpful chart.

06. Review, Adjust, and Report

As you practice your evacuation plan, take note of your areas for improvement. Implement changes that address those areas for your next rehearsal. Consider asking for employee feedback regarding your evacuation plan as well. A simple survey could reveal helpful suggestions to shave valuable seconds off your evacuation plan.

Report on your evacuation plan changes and rehearsals according to your workplace’s safety requirements. Some businesses require thorough documentation of every evacuation plan drill and adjustment. Make sure you’re aware of your company’s policies and adhere to any necessary reporting requirements.

Whether you need help developing your fire evacuation plan, or it’s time for your office building’s fire protection system inspection, Vanguard Fire & Security is here to help. Give us a call at 800-444-8719 or contact us online today for more information.