Why training, not instinct, is key to safe evacuations

by on December 14, 2010 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

You’ve heard the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared. And when it comes to emergency evacuation, being prepared is crucial to survival.

Here’s what can go wrong: Untrained people react predictably in emergencies, but not the way you’d expect, says David Blossom, an emergency-evacuation expert for Amerisure. Behavioral research shows that, in an emergency situation, people’s natural instinct is to act as follows:

  • Not panic. In fact, they’ll underreact to real emergencies.
  • Seek more information. They’ll waste time asking what’s going on.
  • Wait for confirmation. “Is that fire alarm for real?” (cough, choke)
  • Seek out an authority. “Maybe the boss knows what we should do?”
  • Fall back on the familiar. Like head out the exit the firefighters are using.
  • Panic. But by this time they should be calling loved ones on the cell-phone.

The good news is that there are specific things you can do to train everyone ahead of time.

What a perfect exit looks like
The ideal solution has a simplicity that belies its importance:

1. When people hear an alarm, they get up and leave the building immediately. They do not seek more info, do not confirm there’s an emergency, and do not wait for an authority to tell them what to do. All of these behaviors cause delays and risk fatalities.

Workers should just get up and go, in a swift and orderly way. At the beginning of a fire, this is often relatively easy – so easy that people get complacent and don’t do it.

Note: You will need to give your people specific info about shutting down machinery or any other operations before leaving. The key is everyone knows exactly what to do so they don’t have to wonder, “Do I have to shut off this machine? Let me ask my supervisor? I shouldn’t go until I find her.”

Emergency evacuation signs can be helpful, too, to let people know what they should do. But don’t count on people reading them in an emergency unless it’s only a couple of words, such as “Fire? Shut Down and Go!” That’s all they’ll be able to process.

2. People take the nearest fire exit – and preferably not the entrance they came in. That’s probably the one emergency responders will be using to fight the fire, and rescue people. Employees should know ahead of time at least three choices, if possible. The first choice is the nearest fire exit. If that one’s blocked by fire or traffic, they should know another. And the third should be a real “last chance” choice, like a window that leads to a roof.

3. They assemble at a predetermined point in a safe zone that’s away from the likely medical services staging point. The safe zone should also be far enough away that people won’t get hurt by secondary explosions or collapsing facilities.

People have gotten killed by remaining too close to facility fires. In one California case, a supervisor remained too close while firemen fought a tank fire, and when it exploded, he was consumed by the flames.

4. They wait for instructions at the staging point. They don’t re-enter the building or leave the area until they are cleared by someone with authority.

How to get there
The keys for getting this reaction:

1. Let people know their roles. People should know what exit they are expected to take, and how to get there. Explain any shutdown procedures and what to do if someone is hurt and needs assistance during the evacuation.

Also, explain your pre-alarm procedures. People often delay firefighters by trying to put out a fire themselves and don’t call until the situation is out of control. They should pull the alarm, call the fire department, and then try to use the fire extinguisher.

2. Fire drills. Nothing saves lives better than regular fire drills. Among other things, people will know what the fire alarm sounds like and get used to reacting to it. Better: It allows you to test if facility exit routes are blocked, locked or ineffective. (We’ve seen cases where emergency exit doors lead to a cramped, fenced-in area, for example.)

3. Shake it up. When workers have mastered the basics, you may want to conduct an emergency fire drill in which circumstances change – they can’t use their initial exit choice, for example, because you’ve blocked an exit.

Another example: They have to help someone else leave the area.

Source: David Blossom, Amerisure.

photo credit: stuartpilbrow

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  1. jamemec
    April 29, 2011 - 7:15 pm

    This one is very nice and excellent information of fire safety and emergency Exit way.I like this great and classic Exit logo.It is very useful symbol of fire safety Exit logo.

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