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Building Operating Management

Communication with Occupants, Local Authorities Key to Emergency Planning





By Lacey Muszynski, Associate Editor   Educational Facilities

OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: Being Prepared for an Emergency Requires a Regularly Updated Emergency PlanPt. 2: Practice Emergency Plans so Occupants are PreparedPt. 3: This Page

4. Communicate with Occupants

Communication is key to dealing with an incident safely and effectively. It needs to happen on multiple levels: facility manager with employees, facility manager with visitors, and facilities with other departments.

An emergency plan should not be created in a vacuum. Facility managers should consider it a team effort and work with human resources, communications and other departments to be sure the plan is workable, says Sem. That's also a way of making sure the plan is disseminated through multiple channels so all occupants are aware of it. Newsletters, e-mails and notes in people's paychecks are all effective ways of communication, says Stein.

Communicating with employees is essential to a successful emergency plan. In tandem with training and practice drills, facility managers should make sure all employees understand what their roles are in an emergency. "Supervisors and managers should know their responsibility roles, and many organizations have emergency team members to assist other occupants," says Sem. For those people, special training and instruction should occur, beyond the all-facility drills. They need to know what they're expected to do, whether it's take a headcount or get people to an evacuation meeting point, says Welling.

Communication is also key when it comes to determining who in the facility might need assistance evacuating. Facility managers need to educate employees on the importance of informing them of any kinds of disabilities that might affect their ability to egress, says Stein. Some people may be afraid to disclose hidden disabilities, especially if it's something they've just been diagnosed with or is temporary, so it's important to foster a relationship of communication and trust. "When you have regular occupants who have a disability, talk to them," says Stein. "Ask them how you can help and what assistance they might need."

One option for providing assistance is an evacuation chair. They are designed to allow occupants with mobility problems to evacuate a building safely — with help — when elevators are not an option. "They can be very effective for people with medical conditions who are ambulatory and use walkers or crutches," says Stein. She suggests, however, that facility managers have a candid conversation about evacuation chairs with occupants who are in wheelchairs to ensure that they can transfer to the evacuation chair, and will have a means of getting around outside the building.

If a facility has many visitors, it may make sense for facility managers to check if they would have trouble evacuating in case of emergency. "When you have people sign into a building at a security desk, what's the harm in asking them a simple yes/no question if they'd need assistance?" says Stein.

In the event of an emergency, communicating directly with occupants and visitors in a timely, clear manner is important. There are many mass notification tools available to facility managers that use everything from audible announcements to cell phone text messages. "You really have to stand back and look at the organization and culture and then decide on the appropriate tools for the job," says Sem.

5. Communicate with Local Authorities

Communicating with local authorities is something that facility managers sometimes don't think to do. "You should not be meeting for the first time when you call 911," says Welling. "Most people assume that when they call 911, help is on the way, but authorities may not be capable of providing the help necessary in a given emergency."

That's why it's necessary to meet with local authorities before an emergency to ensure they're familiar with the facility and the emergency plan. "Interactions have to occur early and often," says Welling. "There's a lot of trust built into the relationship. Give them accurate information, and they trust that you're preparing them."

The information provided to local authorities should include information on occupants who might need help evacuating. "They're going to be appreciative of knowing that there's 25 people in the facility with disabilities in advance," says Stein. In turn, authorities will be better able to mitigate the emergency.

Something else to keep in mind is that many facilities are utilizing a locked box outside of the facility that includes floorplans, HVAC layouts, material safety data sheets and other information for authorities, says Welling. The boxes, which are often bolted on to the main entrance or a perimeter bollard, are water and fire proof and are accessed with a municipal key. That way, local authorities can have access to all the information they need in the thick of an emergency.


Continue Reading:

Being Prepared for an Emergency Requires a Regularly Updated Emergency Plan

Practice Emergency Plans so Occupants are Prepared

Communication with Occupants, Local Authorities Key to Emergency Planning

posted on 9/28/2010

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