Evacuation Routes and Assembly Points

We are all familiar with the typical fire drill:  there is typically an announcement that a fire drill will be taking place sometime in the near future, and then another announcement that the drill is taking place and someone activates the fire alarm.  People typically evacuate the building using either their familiar entry/exit route or if they are well trained, the primary evacuation route.  Outside they congregate by the building waiting to be allowed back in to resume the activity that was interrupted by the drill.

Is this at all a realistic depiction of a fire or other situation calling for an evacuation? How many are familiar with the secondary evacuation route? Has anyone checked with the fire department to see how they will be entering the building and whether the evacuation route is in conflict with their procedures?  Where do people wait outside? What are they supposed to do under adverse weather conditions?

When planning evacuation routes the following issues should be considered:

1.     Always designate more than one evacuation route (each building always has more than one of egress by code). Maps should depict primary, secondary and if possible tertiary evacuation routes

2.     Determine the primary evacuation route AFTER talking to the fire department and finding out which route they will be using to ENTER the building.  If people are trying to exit while firefighters are trying to enter there will be congestion that could put everyone at risk.

3.     The primary evacuation route should ideally take people directly out of the building rather than into an interior space (e.g. a lobby).

4.     Evacuation maps should be hanging on the wall facing the direction of evacuation traffic.  When looking at the map “up” (top of page) is the direction the person is facing. “Down” (bottom of page) is the area behind the person.

5.     When planning for a property, think about vehicle evacuation routes as well.

When people exit the building they must go to assembly points.  The reasons for having organized assembly points are that it helps track people (making sure they are safely out of the building), ensures people are not in the way of emergency response personnel, and allows effective communication of updates.

Assembly points should meet the following criteria (when possible):

1.     Be at a safe distance from the building.

2.     Be known to all occupants expected to evacuate to them.

3.     Be coordinated with emergency response personnel and other organizations potentially evacuating at the same time (e.g. other buildings, other tenants).  Assembly points are often used by emergency response personnel, since they are in close proximity to the building.

4.     Have some weather protection – Murphy’s Law of disasters states that actual evacuations happen during the worst weather possible.

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