Evacuation Drills


The need for evacuation can happen any time, any where, for any of numerous reasons…e.g., fire, gas leaks, chemical spills, public disturbances, earthquakes, storms, etc. Knowing what to do, when to begin, and where to go are fundamental tools for a successful evacuation. Those skills are developed only through planning and practice.

Planning considers the potentials and develops the protocols required for safe, orderly exiting of the building. It takes into consideration the building, the people who may be in it, a safe destination, the time of day, and the weather. The completed plan must be unambiguous, concise, and clearly presented. Please be sure that it addresses the following items.

  • all staff are completely familiar with your emergency action plan including their duties when it is activated

  • appropriate alarms are installed and maintained throughout the facility…both automatic detection units and manual pull stations should be present

  • exit pathways are clearly marked, provided with emergency lighting, and are not compromised by clutter, storage, or locked doors

  • every room has a conspicuously posted evacuation diagram showing two distinct paths out of the building

  • special needs people (young, old, or disabled) should be located as close to an exit as possible because of the probable need for special assistance

  • childcare and programmed activities should have designated meeting sites and established roll call protocols to ensure complete evacuation

  • childcare and after school program protocols should require a staff member to bring the children’s contact information, medications, and the emergency manual with them during any evacuation

  • verification of full facility evacuation (including steam rooms, saunas, locker rooms, etc.) should be done, but staff should not go into harm’s way to make this determination…that task should be left to the fire department

  • staff and patrons should be warned to avoid elevators during a fire because they may stop unexpectedly

  • protocols should be established and communicated for instances where escape is impossible

    • stay in a room with an outside window
    • keep the doors closed between you and the fire
    • block cracks with wet towels, clothing, etc.
    • know how to open the window to ventilate smoke, but be ready to close the window immediately if it makes the room smokier
    • signal your presence to rescuers by telephone, if available, or by waving something at the window
  • train everyone to test doors for heat before opening them and to stay low in smoke-filled areas because the air quality during a fire is better close to the floor

Even the best plan is of little value without practice. Incorporate the following into your procedures.

  • coordinate fire drills with your local fire department

  • have evacuation drills and practice escapes regularly

    • do them several times during the year
    • include weekends and vary the time of day
  • an element of surprise simulates a real fire and puts more realism into your fire drill program but it also adds stress…consider those patrons for whom increased stress may be problematic before deciding on unannounced drills

  • appoint an evacuation drill monitor who

    • will initiate the drills
    • may increase realism by directing participants to use their second way out or to crawl low (e.g., by signs saying “exit blocked by fire” or “smoke”
    • will time the evacuation process…people should not return inside until authorized by the monitor, i.e., after all internal areas are checked, all individuals’ locations are determined, etc.
  • after the drill, the executive staff should discuss any questions or problems that occurred…redesign drill and/or evacuation procedures as necessary to make the next one even more effective.


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