How the Emergency Planning Committee Contribute to Safety

How the Emergency Planning Committee (EPC) Contribute to Safety

Ken Walker

business continuity

It is important that an emergency response procedure is developed for every identified emergency with a risk classification of high or above. The emergency planning committee is responsible for this activity.  This doesn’t exclude preparations for other emergencies. If you think some other emergency may be likely in certain circumstances then establishing an emergency response procedure should be completed.

When preparing these procedures consideration should be given to the responsibilities of the emergency control organisation E.C.O., responsibilities of occupants and the action they should take, arrangements for evacuating the facility and up to date communication details.  I.e. key organisations and personnel contact details. 

Even though there may be many hundreds of possible key elements to a procedure it should be kept relatively simple so it’s easy to follow and implement. Whenever a response procedure is complete the simplicity check should be run over it. We will now go over some of these key elements. It should be noted that this isn’t a complete list.

The emergency planning committee, in consultation with key stakeholders, shall develop specific response procedures for a given situation. Let’s look at some of what might be included.

  1.   After hours of procedures.

The emergency plan should be just as relevant and workable for employees or other occupants to use after hours. Even though there may be fewer people in the building the response procedures must be contextualised to the specific scenario.  

  1.   Communication.

risk mitigation

It could be said that when an activity fails it is like because of a break down in communications. Therefore, and appropriate warning system or systems to ensure all occupants, including, the emergency control organisation or E.C.O. are aware that an emergency is possibly developing.

Standard methods of communicating may need to be altered where there are occupants with specific disabilities I.e. hearing impaired. During the establishment of a personal emergency evacuation plan, there is the opportunity to analyse what method is appropriate.

During some types of emergency there is the real possibility that neighbours could be impacted, so communicating warnings external may be essential. The use of many systems may be justified and could include.

  1.     Emergency Warning intercommunications system also is known as E.W.I.S..
  2.     Visual signals.
  3.     Telephones including mobile and satellite.
  4.     Two-way radios.
  5.     Paging systems.
  6.     Runners and more.

Limitations of some communication equipment should be considered in areas like basements. Furthermore, mobile phones and other equipment produce electromagnetic radiation which could be problematic or dangerous where medical equipment or explosives are being used.

  1.   Control and Coordination.

This term is problematic in workplace response and business resilience. It does tend to imply that one person or group will look after all occupants. Even so, coordination is a key element to any response procedure and rather than control we encourage E.C.O. members to show leadership and empower others to help themselves and potentially others.

For example. In an airport terminal where there has been a terrorist attack, it is almost impossible to have enough wardens to deal with the panic and overall situation. So E.C.O. members with good leadership qualities will coordinate a far better response to a given situation.

An emergency response plan may reflect this by leading occupants to a transition area ready for evacuation. Especially in large buildings.

As a final word the overall coordination is the responsibility of the E.C.O and their leadership ability may be the difference between life and death of occupants.

  1.   Emergency Response Equipment.

Most developed countries around the world including Australia have building and construction codes that require some type of first attack equipment. In Australia, the building code requires such equipment. Generally known as hose reels, fire extinguishers and fire blankets. There are a number of other types of first attack equipment but it is outside the scope of this lesson.

The first attack items are provided for the occupant of a building to use. It must be said that the first time one uses a piece of firefighting or other equipment shouldn’t be when the emergency occurs. Always operate within your scope of training and experience.

  1.     Evacuation.

One of the most important response procedures. Giving consideration to the types of emergency situations that may arise will help guide the E.P.C. There are a number of things to consider and I will go through a few of them below. Many relating to the “what if” scenarios. 

What if. we have disabled or other vulnerable occupants to evacuate. Do we provide training for E.C.O. members to assist vulnerable people? Or can one of their co-workers assist them to safety?

 

Here are some evacuation types to consider. 

Full evacuation.

If a full evacuation is required, what will be the trigger points and the key safety considerations?

Partial Evacuation.

Maybe a partial evacuation only is required given the type of situation. I.e. to evacuate an entire caravan park when the admin area/building is on fire may course more safety issues than with a partial evacuation.

Shelter in place No evacuation.

Occupants may be safer if they shelter in place due to an external emergency. Imagine if a full evacuation was communicated and the evacuation area was compromised by an external hazardous material threat. Lives would be at risk. Another example of why response procedures would use shelter in place is because of lightning or storms outside the building.

Escape Hide and Tell.

This is where the immediate escape from a building is considered unsafe. I.e. During an active shooter or other terrorist attacks. More information on the Escape/Hide/Tell methodology can be found at National security website (www.nationalsecurity.gov.au).

Lockdown.

An assessment of the emergency may require that a lockdown is required. To exit the building may be unsafe. There may be an imminent danger to occupants outside the building. Some warning systems go into immediate evacuation alert. The E.P.C. should be aware of this and make plans to overcome the danger.

Evacuation Routes.

Predetermined evacuation routes can be kept clear and ready in case of an emergency. Even so, E.C.O. members may be given the flexibility to alter such routes if declared unsafe. The building code is quite clear about travel distances to required exits.

Assembly areas.

When positioning a predetermined assembly area there are a number of considerations. I.e. could the area be impacted by smoke debris and flying object. Furthermore, is the area suitable for access to wheelchairs and other mobility aids. Evacuations areas can be another floor or refuge area in multi-level buildings.

  1.     First Aid Officers.

Response procedures should reflect the location and presence of first aid officers. Also, where and how first aid equipment may be obtained including A.E.D.s.  The first aid officers role is separate and distinct from the emergency wardens role and visa versa.

  1.   Lifts and escalators.

This equipment is not to be used in emergencies and this should be indicated on response procedure checklists. 

Even so, the E.P.C. may consult a number of specialists who could in some circumstances allow for a specific lift to be used. Theses specialists include. Fire safety engineers, mechanical services engineers and others.

  1.   Media response.

All media interviews should be performed by key personnel. Identified in the emergency response procedure. This stop wardens and employees giving information that might not be totally correct. Generally, the Chief Warden has all the information and maybe well situated to give an interview. Even so, authorisation must come from the highest levels of organisations.

Emergency Procedures may also include responses to.

  1.     People unfamiliar with emergency procedures.
  2.     Personal Effects.
  3.     Refuges.
  4.     Specialist Staff.
  5.     Stairway evacuation devices.
  6.     Use and characteristics of the facility.
  7.     Vehicle entry points.
  8.     An many more;

 

    Emergency Color Codes.

If the E.P.C. determine that it may be beneficial to introduce colour codes to a response procedure. There are a number of standard colours that should be used. Colour codes can reduce the radio chatter and clear the airwaves for emergency information. It is also a quick method of indicating a trigger point has been reached in relation to response requirements. The colour codes are as follows.

  1.       Red = Fire and or Smoke.
  2.       Purple = Bomb Threat.
  3.       Blue = Medical Emergency.
  4.       Black = Personal Threat.
  5.       Brown = External emergency.
  6.       Yellow = Internal Emergency.
  7.       Orange = Evacuation.

In conclusion.

I think as can be seen above the Emergency Planning Committee has quite a complex and extensive task. Their role cannot be underestimated as if their emergency plan is ineffective occupants safety may be jeopardised substantially.

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