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October 22, 2014 -
When thinking about preparing a facility to respond to a fire emergency, the occupants themselves can be seen as part of the challenge. With reluctant participation in fire drills, a facility manager might wonder if people will treat an emergency seriously quickly enough or if they'll linger in their offices, waiting to be sure the emergency is real.
While occupant response is certainly something that needs to be anticipated and managed, occupants can also fill important roles when it comes time to clear a building. Whether it's serving as a floor warden, initiating an alarm, or helping a coworker with a disability to exit the building, occupants can take responsibility for actions that the facility department cannot cover, simply because the staff can't be everywhere at once.
The first step is making sure that you have a plan for getting everyone from their area of the building to a safe area, which might be outside or inside, depending on the nature of the emergency. While that may seem like a straightforward task — people from the East wing go to one end of the parking lot, for example — it can be complicated by something as simple as force of habit. Building occupants tend to come in and go out of the same doors each day, so in the case of an evacuation, they may bypass the closest door because it's not "their" door. Or, if someone who works on the third floor is on the second floor for a meeting, they may not immediately know where to go in an evacuation. Appropriate of signage posted to clearly identify evacuation routes and exits will help correct for this. During drills, you can watch for areas where occupants seem confused or are taking a slower route out of the building.
Another thing to keep in mind when defining routes is that not every person in the building is actually an occupant. Visitors to the building or employees who normally work remotely may not be familiar with exit routes, so again, signage is important, as is having a system in place to ensure the building is clear.