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Empowering Facility Occupants to Respond in Emergencies


Recruiting key personnel at your facility to serve as floor wardens is an important part of many, if not all, emergency response plans. In a typical scenario, a handful of volunteers are given the responsibility to aid the facilities team in the event of an emergency at the facility requiring evacuation. The wardens sweep their assigned area, making sure nobody is left behind. A few might also be assigned to buddy up with occupants who require additional assistance exiting the facility, usually staying with them in a sheltered waiting area until first responders can evacuate the individual.

At Kennesaw State University, they take the concept of floor wardens up a notch. Each of the campus 35 building has several crisis coordinators, who have much the same role as a floor warden except they can also initiative an evacuation. Any of the 265 crisis coordinators on the campus can make the call that an action, such as a building evacuation, needs to happen to ensure occupant safety.

For example, an unidentifiable smell of smoke caused a four story building on the campus to be evacuation on the judgment call of one of the crisis coordinators. It turned out to only be a smell coming from an adjacent dining hall starting up its grills, but Bob Lang, who oversees the university's emergency response program, said he'd rather have an evacuation and have it be nothing versus not making the call.

"When they call in to me, it's not to ask permission, because we empower them to make that decision," says Lang. In addition to initiating alarms or sweeping areas, one of the key responsibilities of whoever is in charge of overseeing an evacuation in a building is making sure that occupants with disabilities can get out. Most of the time, this is done by assigning someone or asking for volunteers to assist in an emergency. Then, when the occupant and their assistant have cleared the building, one of them reports to the floor warden or someone in a similar role so that the fire department knows that occupants with disabilities are out of the building.

However, there is one element of this that is often missed, says Chris Jelenewicz, senior program manager, Society of Fire Protection Engineers. A good emergency plan will account for those employees who have permanent disabilities; a better one will have a process for adding to the list employees who have temporary disabilities and will need assistance.

In a high-rise building, it's going to be very hard for someone with a broken leg to get out, he says. "You have to have a way in your plan to say, 'Hey, Chris broke his leg last week, let's get him on the list so we know to check for him and assist him in getting out.'"

Besides an obviously broken leg, other individuals who might require assistance include pregnant employees near the end of their pregnancies, people with asthma, people with heart conditions, or individuals with anxiety disorders, among many possibilities. Facility managers can work with their HR departments to find a suitable solution to help reveal these individuals so they might be put on a list, while still respecting privacy and sensitivities.

Learn more here.

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