The Emergency Evacuation Plan Revisited

Ken Walker

reviewing the emergency evacuation plan in the workplace

Over the past 60 or so blog posts we have covered the emergency evacuation plan a number of times. Including many references to the most relevant Australian Standard – AS 3745-2010. This Australian Standard is designed to assist the emergency planning committee (EPC) prepare for emergencies in a given facility.

There is often a tendency to start the emergency plan for business, by putting together an evacuation plan to hang proudly on the wall. Don’t get me wrong – this is an important function but there are a number of activities that probably should occur well before this one.

What is emergency evacuation plan?

Good emergency evacuation plans and there are plans just put together for compliance purposes only. A good plan will always be molded to suit a specific situation and facility. It will need to be tested using a number of scenarios to ensure that the people it is protecting are actually protected.

One of the best things any planner can do is to sit down with key personnel in an organisation for a brainstorming session. Going through risks and potential scenarios and what the consequences of these emergencies might be.

What a session like this does, is to fit an emergency plan of action that is likely to fit with the actions of a given facility or business. Let’s get back on track and define the emergency plan in the workplace. It is a group of procedures and systems designed to guide occupants and the emergency control organisation during an emergency. Often plans concentrate on a single or only a few scenarios. In reality there is the potential for many types of emergencies from fires, medical emergencies, active shooter, bomb threat and many many more. Emergency plans and procedures should be able to provide guidance for any situation.

stg workers planning for an emergency situation

The emergency plan in the workplace

We have looked at how the plan should fit a specific workplace or facility. It’s important to take that one step further and set goals and objectives. Doing this will generally progress into strategies and valuable taktics. For example, AS 3745-2010 indicates that a fire warden should conduct two passes of a facility. This makes sure that everyone is evacuated to safety during an emergency.

The one thing that must be considered here is the safety of fire wardens and occupants during this second pass or looking around for occupants. The key guiding influence is that such activities will only be done if it is safe to do so. It should be said, as an ex emergency worker, sometimes colleagues and other aquantenances do perish. Sometimes there is nothing the emergency responder can do to change this situation.

Firefighters, paramedics and police all have specialist skills, so in critical situations ensuring a fire warden communicates effectively. Which may be the difference between life and death for occupants. If your workplace emergency plan is well constructed then it is likely that most if not all occupants will be kept safe and evacuated to safety.

The emergency management plan 4 key principles

In the emergency management world there are four guiding principles. Whether a catastrophic bushfire that destroys many homes or a medical emergency involving a number of casualties the principles should guide the planning process.

These principles are as follows:

  • Prevention – these are action and processes put in place to mitigate the likelihood of an emergency. For example, no smoking or naked flame policy in the vicinity of a fuel storage area.
  • Preparedness – are actions taken during the planning process to ensure that there are responders available and procedures to guide them when an emergency does occur.
  • Response – this is again procedures and skills required for fire warden or emergency responder during response to a given emergency. For example, the training plan, which is part of the emergency management plan, provides specialist firefighting, medical and other knowledge for people designated as responders.
  • Recovery – as the name suggests this is the process predetermined to bring the facility or business back to normal operations after the emergency. In the past, often recovery has been a little under planned. Which has been unfortunate for many businesses as they were unable to survive the emergency. Here, insurance, which can be expensive, may mitigate the risk to a business recovering after an emergency.

direction to an emergency exit

How often should an emergency action plan be reviewed

We will first look and see how Australian Standard 3745-2010 indicates that the plan should be reviewed yearly and completely updated every five years.

When we analyse risks, as the emergency plan is being established. Time between reviews should become quite obvious. For high risk locations like a fuel storage facility, might conduct a quarterly audit/review. Where an office environment may conduct an audit and review of the plan every 12 months as the Standard suggests.

In terms of establishing a whole new plan every five years. If the yearly reviews have been completed in a thorough manner. Then the plan should be evolving and changing to suit a changing business. Therefore the five yearly complete review shouldn’t be required.

The health and safety professional

One of the main roles of health and safety professionals is to mitigate risk and plan for emergencies. In terms of the emergency management plan, whether prepared for response and recovery there are emergency management specialists. Even so, for quite large organizations who employ a work health and safety expert. There is a need to ensure an experienced and/or qualified emergency manager reviews your plan. It may seem like more expense but in terms of the plan being workable and functional during an emergency situation it is important.

This suggestion isn’t downgrading the health and safety managers role. It’s just about getting professionals who’s whole career and academic pursuits have been in the emergency management field.

When an Emergency Planning Committee within an organisation has no emergency management or health and safety qualified personnel. Guidance should be provided by appropriate experienced and qualified consultants. It doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. If general objectives and strategies have been put together by the committee. A consultant would only need to spend a day or two reviewing and making sure the emergency plan is on a good pathway.

It may also be advantageous to have them look at the final plan and provide information on potential scenarios designed to test the plan.

Contingency plan vs emergency response plan

Both contingency and emergency management plans are important parts of planning for emergencies in a facility. Of course the response plan is part of the emergency response and the contingency plan is about recovery from an incident.

Many may have heard of a business continuity plan which could be called a contingency plan. It is designed to temporarily get a business operating again after an event that has disrupted the business. If done properly it will also provide a pathway to full recovery and normal operations as prior to the adverse event occurring.

We have done a complete article on the contingency plan and if you would like further information refer to AS/NZS 5050:2010 (Business continuity – Managing disruption-related risk).

In conclusion.

This article has probably evolved in comments on the emergency planning for which the evacuation plan is only part of. Even so, the emergency evacuation will always evolve from the setting of objectives and strategies. Which in turn come from conducting a thorough risk assessment. Thus, then leading into recovery and business continuity and a pathway back to normality for an organisation. If your organisation would like to discuss planning for emergencies please give us a call at STG Fire Safety training.

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