Understanding evacuation options - EPESA
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Understanding evacuation options

Girl standing in front of an emergency exit trying to decide whether or not to evacuate during an emergency.

Understanding evacuation options

Whether you have been an occupant or visitor to a building or facility, you may have witnessed an audible alarm and in some cases messages from an emergency warning system.  These warnings may have been initiated as a test or an actual emergency.  These warnings are designed to provide assistance in the orderly evacuation, relocation or direction of personnel in emergencies such as, but not limited to, fire, smoke, civil commotion, bomb threats, siege, explosion, leakage of toxic substances or fumes, and structural damage.  It is important to understand that not all buildings and facilities are equipped with these systems and there is a reliance on other means of informing occupants and visitors of an emergency including evacuation requirements.

Most people would be familiar with the term evacuation.  Evacuation is the process of relocating people from dangerous or potentially dangerous areas to safer areas. The purpose of an evacuation is to use distance to separate people from the danger created by the emergency.  It has been a long-standing practice that in the event of an emergency the response is to evacuate to designated external-to-building assembly areas.  This could be a nearby carpark, park or some other open space.  Over time, and with the benefit of lessons learned from a variety of emergencies there are now a range of evacuation options available.

AS 3745 (Planning for emergencies in facilities) addresses, amongst many other vital areas of emergency planning evacuation options based on the type and extent of an emergency.  This standard would also apply to facilities where fixed emergency warning systems are not required or installed.

Evacuation options as explained in AS 3745 are as follows;

Full Evacuation

This measure is used to clear a building or facility of all occupants.  Full evacuation would normally be carried out in response to a potentially catastrophic, life threatening situation or where the building cannot function due to severe services malfunction.  In some buildings, the alarm system is automatically set to the evacuate tone without an alert tone facility.  Emergency response procedures should reflect these situations.

Partial Evacuation

This measure is an alternative to a total evacuation in some buildings such as hospitals, aged care facilities and multi-storey buildings.

Note:  Partial evacuation may –

  • include evacuation into or through smoke and fire compartments;
  • be used to evacuate individuals closest to a situation and prevent congestion in the stairways; or
  • be utilised when evacuation of several floors is sufficient to protect occupants while the hazard is being eliminated, i.e. to move people away from a localised emergency within a building or facility.

Examples of where a partial building evacuation may be carried out include a localised fire, a localised flood, a chemical spill, a bomb threat specified for a certain area.  Numerous situations can occur that make it advisable for those inside a building to remain inside for their own protection.

Shelter in place (no evacuation)  

This measure is an emergency response option that allows occupants and visitors to remain inside a facility on the basis that an evacuation to an external-to-building location might reasonably expose evacuating people to a greater level of danger.

Whether you have been an occupant or visitor to a building or facility, you may have witnessed an audible alarm and in some cases messages from an emergency warning system.  These warnings may have been initiated as a test or an actual emergency.  These warnings are designed to provide assistance in the orderly evacuation, relocation or direction of personnel in emergencies such as, but not limited to, fire, smoke, civil commotion, bomb threats, siege, explosion, leakage of toxic substances or fumes, and structural damage.  It is important to understand that not all buildings and facilities are equipped with these systems and there is a reliance on other means of informing occupants and visitors of an emergency including evacuation requirements.

Most people would be familiar with the term evacuation.  Evacuation is the process of relocating people from dangerous or potentially dangerous areas to safer areas. The purpose of an evacuation is to use distance to separate people from the danger created by the emergency.  It has been a long-standing practice that in the event of an emergency the response is to evacuate to designated external-to-building assembly areas.  This could be a nearby carpark, park or some other open space.  Over time, and with the benefit of lessons learned from a variety of emergencies there are now a range of evacuation options available.

AS 3745 (Planning for emergencies in facilities) addresses, among many other vital areas of emergency planning evacuation options based on the type and extent of an emergency.  This standard would also apply to facilities where fixed emergency warning systems are not required or installed.

Armed intruder, evacuation, hide or other appropriate action

If safe evacuation of the building is not possible, occupants need to hide or take other appropriate action.  This may include full, partial or shelter in place, or other measures determined by the type of intrusion.  For further assistance, see the Australian National Security website:  www.nationalsecurity.gov.au.

An assessment of the shelter or refuge to determine the suitability and sustainability of the shelter should be carried out for certain emergencies, where shelter in place option is being considered.

The success of this strategy will depend, to a large extent, on the degree to which premises have been prepared.  The most appropriate decision will be made after the assessment of all the available information.  Decision makers should seek and evaluate expert advice.

Numerous situations can occur that make it advisable for those inside a building to remain inside for their own protection.  In 2015, the Business Continuity Institute (Australian Chapter) published a Post Incident – Business Continuity Debrief on the Lindt Café Siege in Martin Place, Sydney https://goo.gl/S6uNGa.

The following comments were made in relation to shelter in place.

‘Several organisations in the immediate vicinity of the Lindt Café were told by the NSW Police to lockdown their buildings, and subsequently implemented shelter-in-place procedures.   

Many of the larger, single occupant buildings around Martin Place had already established shelter-in-place procedures, often as a result of prior disruptive incidents occurring in or near their premises, or otherwise prompted by headline grabbing events occurring to similar organisation in Australia or overseas.    

In implementing their shelter-in-place procedures, these organisations asked floor wardens and managers to move staff to higher floors and away from the windows that faced Martin Place.  Conference rooms were used and available desks were shared.  The degree of efficiency with which the shelter-in-place activity was implemented reflected how often and recently the procedures had been rehearsed.’

Unfortunately, the response by occupants and visitors to emergency situations in buildings and facilities vary significantly.  In many situations, particularly in small and medium size enterprises, there will be limited or no access to emergency services or dedicated security staff to provide that initial intervention and direction that may be critical to life safety.  It is however possible to prepare your staff to respond in a manner that could assist in reducing the short and long-term consequences for themselves and others around them.

Emergency planning, even in small enterprises is vital.  Having discussions with staff at formal and informal meetings or training sessions about how they should respond to emergencies is important.  Conducting regular exercises based on different scenarios will reinforce plans that have either been written or discussed previously.

There is significant information available in Australian Standards, other publications and from Government Agencies and other sources to assist with preparing your staff for emergencies.  If, however you would like to discuss your level of preparedness with us we would be happy to assist by contacting us at info@epesa.com.au.

 

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