by Karen D. Hamel
For everyone to act safely and effectively during disasters and
emergencies, evacuation plans must be developed, documented and
thoroughly rehearsed. Well-written plans provide accurate
information about possible emergencies, detail steps for protecting
employees and others at the facility during and after an incident,
and list procedures for minimizing damage and downtime.
To begin, planners need accurate information about the layout and
processes taking place in the facility, as well as any harmful
products stored on site. Looking at facility blueprints and material
safety data sheets for stocked chemicals will help planners
determine the potential for processes or products at the facility to
cause harm to employees or the environment.
In addition to in-facility emergencies, it also is important to
consider area topography and the possibility of natural and manmade
disasters when creating emergency plans. In some areas, flood plans
may be necessary; others may need to plan for rolling blackouts,
tornados or earthquakes. When considering emergencies that are
beyond your immediate control, consider potential harm from
neighboring facilities as well. If, for example, a chemical plant is
next door, knowing that company's hazard potential and evacuation
procedures is advisable.
Guidance on potential hazards should be available through your
local emergency planning commission (LEPC). Local authorities, such
as the LEPC, fire marshals, hazmat teams and sometimes even
hospitals, can be a great help for anyone developing, amending or
coordinating an emergency response plan.
Involving outside organizations also can help planners uncover
and coordinate outside resources that are readily available in their
community. Often, personnel from these organizations will volunteer
their time to help facilities develop response plans. Many also will
assist in or help coordinate drill operations with company
Covering All the Bases
An ideal plan outlines step-by-step procedures that ensure safety
for everyone and everything at the facility, no matter what the
emergency. Because different emergencies require different
resources, it is best to outline emergency-specific procedures.
Stating "workers will turn off machines and everyone will evacuate"
is not a sufficient plan and may not fit all situations.
For example, if there is a chemical release, evacuation will be
different than if there is a prolonged blackout. The chemical
release may affect only a portion of the facility, but be very
urgent. Getting people out of the area in a timely manner is likely
to be more important that shutting down every computer or process. A
prolonged blackout is typically more of a nuisance than an
emergency; however, it will likely affect everyone at the facility,
and evacuation will be slower due to limited visibility and a lesser
sense of urgency.
Depending on the nature and extent of an incident, the facility
may need to shut down operations to ensure safety. The sequence of
shutdown procedures, specifying personnel and backup personnel to
perform these functions, should be included in the response plan.
Among the elements to consider are power generators, gas lines, fuel
systems, flammable process lines, tanks, electrical systems and
Ensuring Life Safety
Ask any good emergency responder and they'll tell you that life
safety is their No. 1 priority. Firefighters, for example, don't go
into a burning house to save "things." They go in to find or rescue
In a facility situation, life safety can be multifaceted. Life
safety means that when the danger calls for an evacuation, there is
a specified plan to get everyone out of the affected area. It also
means that there are procedures to ensure the safety of anyone who
is going to mitigate the danger.
The first step in devising plans that will get everyone out
safely and in the shortest amount of time is establishing exit
routes that are clear and usable. Aisles must be kept clear and
clean, be wide enough to accommodate personnel, be clearly marked
and be well-lit. Unkempt floors and dimly lit stairwells will almost
guarantee injuries during an evacuation. If anyone will require
assistance to evacuate, this should be addressed in the plans. Some
companies use a "buddy system" to ensure that anyone with a special
need will be assisted during the evacuation.
Once the exit routes are planned, employees will need a
designated safe area to reassemble. For an emergency such as a fire,
the safe area may be the parking lot outside the facility – away
from fire hydrants and emergency access routes. For greater
emergencies such as toxic chemical releases or a leaking gas main,
auxiliary shelters may be a consideration. Poor weather conditions
also can play a factor in evacuations. If the evacuation will be for
an extended time and the weather is not favorable, backup facilities
such as buses, trailers or other temporary shelters may be an option
if employees not directly involved in the response are going to
remain on site.
Plans should specify who will perform head counts at the
accumulation area to verify that everyone has been safely evacuated.
If anyone is unaccounted for, plans need to spell out the procedures
for finding these individuals.
Before drilling a response plan, estimate the amount of time it
will take to evacuate the facility. Keep in mind that multiple tasks
will be occurring simultaneously. Allot a realistic time for these
things to happen. It may take five minutes to shut down a process
under the best conditions. An emergency may double the amount of
time needed. Conferring with process operators will help planners
set a realistic time frame.
After the company's plan has taken shape, it's time to train
everyone. Each employee should be given specific instructions about
what they are to do, where they are supposed to go, when to go, how
to get there and what, if anything, to bring with them. After
everyone has been given that information and their questions have
been answered, drills should be scheduled and conducted.
During the drill, evacuation times should be verified. After the
drill, planners should host a meeting or forum to give everyone
involved the opportunity to present and discuss any problems
encountered. Perhaps office workers wearing high-heeled shoes found
it difficult to descend a steep set of stairs that are a designated
part of their exit route. Were any aisles blocked? Drills and
subsequent communication will help determine if there are any
problems with the plans.
After the initial drills, it is prudent to drill every so often
to ensure employees remember their training and to make sure the
plans still will work in an emergency. Variables, such as smoke, a
mock fire blocking certain exits or missing employees, can be thrown
in to the drills to test planned contingencies.
Safe and Sound
In addition to life safety, plans should include provisions for
facility security during emergencies. Sadly, every company must
acknowledge that theft and vandalism are facts of life. When
employees are told that they have to leave everything, they are
likely to be concerned about their belongings and the work they are
performing. That concern can translate into delays in the
Company assets also must be protected in the event of an actual
emergency. Locking doors, gates and fences seems like a natural
step, but these details often can be neglected in an emergency
unless the responsibility is assigned to someone and is spelled out
in the response plan. If pathways are to be locked, it is important
to specify when they will be locked. For example, if locks prevent
entry from both directions, verification that everyone has gotten
out needs to be made before the doors or gates are locked. The names
of personnel with keys should be noted in the plan in case
responders need to have their keys to access the facility to
mitigate the emergency.
Back to Work
In the event that an emergency occurs, plans should detail
disaster recovery and restoration procedures. This part of the plan
should list what needs to be done after events such as a fire,
earthquake, chemical release or explosion. For example, exit routes
may need to be re-established, utilities inspected, HVAC systems
cleaned, spill supplies restocked and alarms tested. Insurance
companies often can provide detailed lists to assist planners on
After the plan has been created and drilled, review it with
officials from the local municipality to ensure everyone's response
will be coordinated and that lines of communication are
well-established. Keep in mind that your local agencies have an
awesome job to perform in large emergencies. Good planning and
coordination will help them know what they can expect from the
facility and their employees.
About the author: Karen D. Hamel is a technical specialist for
New Pig Corp. She is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and
has more than nine years of experience helping customers find
solutions to their environmental, health and safety issues. She is
HAZWOPER technician level-certified and serves on the Blair County,
Pa. LEPC. She can be reached at (800) HOT-HOGS (468-4647) or by
e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Karen D. Hamel ()
Copyright © 2002
Penton Media, Inc.