The Truth About Evacuation Drills

July 1, 2011 No Comments

By Allen F. Weitzel

In my 45 years in this business, I have heard it hundreds of times, “We can never complete evacuation drills because we can never schedule the whole crew together for training at one time.” Evacuation training does not have to be worrisome. Here are some tips about evacuations.

Why Would You Evacuate?

When danger to people is obvious, evacuations should begin. You are responsible for the safety of your guests, employees, contractors and vendors. You may need to evacuate all or parts of your facility due to a natural disaster, advisories from local agencies, or on-site emergencies.

What Kind of Drills Are Used?

The most common drills are full or partial facility drills and small workspace drills. You can conduct a live or a verbal drill. Live drills require people on the property to stop their work and practice an evacuation walk through. A verbal drill involves talking employees through the evacuation without the physical tour. A single room drill might be practiced with the trainer and one or two employees in that workspace.

How to Start?

Create an evacuation checklist. List what you need to do. Name a drill coordinator to oversee the plan. Establish assembly sites and list recovery steps to get the facility back to normal after the crisis. For evacuations completely off your property, prepare and have available easy-to-understand road maps and evacuation instructions that indicate routes to safety. Make them available to everyone.

Conducting a Drill

It is true that it is not easy to schedule the entire crew for a live drill. There are always excuses as to why employees cannot stop work to take part in a drill. To solve this, start small and work up.

Some training is better than no training. The best evacuation training is that which can be done in 30 minutes, year around, involving small groups of employees. Your instructors can teach workers to exit their workspace. Map out all the exits that a person can use. The instructor and trainees should walk the route(s) several times, to make sure the trainees are comfortable and know the way. If you can recreate some adverse conditions, then do so, such as turning off hallway lights to simulate a route that may be dark or smoke filled. Pre-place signs along the pathway to describe obstructions, such as: flames, smoke, heat, fallen debris, locked doors, dark hallways, etc. The instructor must establish a person who trails behind to make sure everyone is out. Make notes if obstacles or concerns are discovered that need to be abated. Your whole company might end up being trained by the use of these small-to-medium size groups.

Eventually hold surprise drills. Tell employees that in the next few weeks, the instructor will appear, blow a whistle, yell out the type of emergency and order an evacuation. The drill may not run perfectly. Use the information you learn to improve future drills. The more practice you provide, the calmer your employees will be during a real evacuation.

What Else Must You Do?

All employees should have access to a whistle and a flashlight. The whistle is to be used if a person is trapped somewhere. Flashlights should be nearby so employees can easily grab them during an evacuation. Many facilities have supervisory personnel always carry a belt-size flashlight.

On their first day of work, new employees must be shown the evacuation maps. Within two weeks, they must be trained in detail on evacuation procedures and how to use the nearest fire extinguisher.

Teach employees the buddy system. They must stay low and crawl during a fire or if there is heavy smoke, closing doors behind them to contain the fire, yet leaving doors unlocked for emergency personnel access. Never allow evacuees to re-enter any areas until the Incident Commander has given the all clear.

The Bottom Line

Each person on your property must know how to get out of a building or off the property safely. It is not difficult to train your staff to be prepared.

Allen F. Weitzel has spent 45 seasons in the recreation field and is safety and training manager at a California amusement park.

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