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emergency drill emergency communication system

Business Owners: How Effective is Your Evacuation Drill?

emergency drill emergency communication system

October 15, 2021 Posted by in Business Continuity, Crisis Communications, Mass Notification

One rule of thumb to ensure that your evacuation drill meets your criteria: practice makes perfect. Evacuation drills should be scheduled throughout the year in order to make sure your staff and other building occupants respond to the crisis in an effective (read: life-saving) manner. Emergencies happen without clear warning, and chaos and confusion can often occur as a result, especially if a proper office evacuation plan and drill are not implemented in advance. And it’s not always about fire drills, although fire safety and adhering to the fire code is extremely important. There are other emergencies, such as severe weather, chemical accidents, and, unfortunately, workplace violence and mass shootings.

You should ask yourself (and your staff): where should evacuation plans be posted in the building and where should you designate assembly points, among other proactive, preliminary thoughts that can make a huge difference if and when a disaster happens.

Here are a few tips in order to get your and your staff in effective evacuation shape:

Before the Evacuation Drill 

  • Write a plan. Get it approved by fire safety professionals, most likely your local fire department staff — or ask them if you need help with the details. They’ll surely be happy to assist. There may be templates available to make this task easier.
  • Predetermine communication. Decide what type of communication gets sent out and at what point during a fire event, and to whom – employees, stakeholders, customers, vendors, etc. Pre-write templates and pre-segment groups in your emergency communication system that will be easily sent out within seconds.
  • Distribute the plan. Once reviewed and approved, make copies of the plan and distribute it to your staff.
  • Schedule an orientation. Make sure employees are familiar with the plan, and answer any questions and address any issues. Make sure everybody knows their responsibilities and plan procedures.
  • Assign a drill evaluator and take a walk. Walk through the property with an evacuation professional and assess the evacuation route and assembly points. Make sure that your staff can access and pass through in a safe and effective manner. Make sure passageways are clear and free of obstruction. Be certain that the exit doors are in good condition.
  • Create a checklist. List all the things you and your staff will need to do in the event of an emergency. If they haven’t yet been addressed, you know what you need to do.

During the Drill 

  • To announce or not to announce? You should plan both surprise drills and scheduled drills, as the actual emergency is never announced. Drills should reflect this element of surprise.
  • Know how to initiate the drill. It’s usually triggered by the building’s fire alarm system — this way there is absolutely no question as to what is happening, and it helps all staff get notified at the same time. You’ll need to coordinate this with your fire alarm company, and have them issue the alarm in “test mode.” Also test out your multi-channel mass notification system and send out alerts as you would according to your communication plan.
  • Get visual. Place a cone — or an actual person — in a place that will represent the emergency in action (for instance, a fire). This may help your staff better visualize or get a feel for the situation, and more effectively find an escape route.
  • Monitor. Keep a careful eye on what is happening, and what can be improved (for instance, faster escape time, better escape routes). Keep a checklist of what is to be expected in order to have a successful evacuation, and see how many boxes can be checked (work on the empty boxes). If your space contains a few floors, assign a monitor for each space.
  • Give an “all clear.” This can happen only if all the checkboxes on your list are checked off, or if it’s acknowledged that certain actions need to be improved and fine-tuned for the next drill. Once the “all clear” is given, your staff can return to the building.

After the Drill

  • Discuss. Let everybody (both your evaluator and staff) share their findings and their reactions to the evacuation drill. Emphasize the parts of the plans that may not have gone smoothly or accurately. Figure out what can be changed and improved. Ensure all recipients received and understood all communication during the drill. Also make sure that you complement and encourage your team for their good work in making the evacuation happen.
  • Decide what’s next. You may need to implement additional trainings and drills, in order to improve. You don’t have to schedule this on the same day, but try to conduct a drill close in time to your current one, so that the procedure stays fresh in everyone’s mind.

Keep in Mind 

An evacuation drill begins with an alarm activation and continues with an orderly, well-thought-out path out of the building. After that, a thorough inspection of the building must be performed, as well as a post-evaluation of the evacuation itself. The experience should end with a discussion with your staff in order to brainstorm what can be improved.

Carnegie Mellon University offers a helpful checklist of what should happen during an evacuation drill. Click here.

Find out more about how RedFlag’s mass communication platform can greatly help you with your future evacuation drills.





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