Nearly half of the local fire departments in the United States can respond to fires in less than five minutes, according to a National Fire Data Center study. When they do arrive on-scene, outside responders rely upon information provided by facility representatives to determine whether or not anyone needs to be rescued.
Facilities that are able to definitively tell the fire chief that everyone has evacuated or that can point out where people are trapped help the first responders target their efforts and perform their duties more safely.
Emergency action, evacuation and contingency plans need to contain procedures for accounting for employees, vendors and visitors during emergencies. Keeping this information up-to-date, designating and training personnel to account for everyone, and performing regular evacuation drills where everyone gets to practice accountability can help ensure that by the time the fire department arrives, facility representatives will be able to provide them with an accurate accounting of everyone onsite.
Having an accurate record of all employees as well as suppliers, contractors and anyone else that is onsite is a key to ensuring that everyone has safely evacuated. Employers are required by OSHA to have a method of accounting for their employees, but they may choose whatever method works the best for them.
For small facilities, maintaining an accurate list of all employees may be as simple as keeping a printed list on a clipboard that the person responsible for accounting for everyone can use to check off names as people reach the evacuation point. Having a log-in sheet for vendors and contactors that can be brought to the evacuation point provides a means for their accountability.
For larger facilities with hundreds or thousands of employees working on several different shifts, contractors, vendors and others onsite, a more robust system may be necessary. Some electronic systems allow checklists to be generated on portable tablets; others use RFID or badge scanning technologies.
No matter what method is used to account for everyone, it needs to be able to be accessed quickly. If electronic systems are utilized, it is a good idea to have a backup system in case of power outages or network problems.
Keeping an updated list or database of contact information for each employee including their home and cellular phone numbers, addresses and an emergency contact person allows this information to be utilized to verify that someone who has not checked in at the evacuation location is safe.
Appoint one or several people as evacuation wardens. As a general rule, having one warden for every twenty to twenty-five people allows for fast, efficient assessments.
Evacuation wardens should be available on all shifts. Back-ups also need to be trained and assigned to cover for the primary wardens if they are sick, on vacation or not at work when an evacuation occurs.
Some facilities choose to break out accountability by department; others choose to do it alphabetically. Drills are a good opportunity to determine the most effective method for fast assessments. Whatever method is chosen, provide all evacuation wardens with a list (or tablet) to check off the employees who need to report them. It is also a good idea to provide them with access to all of the other warden’s lists so that they can back up each other if a warden and/or backup is unavailable.
To help everyone locate their evacuation warden, consider ways to make them more visible. Hi-vis vests, flags on poles and flashlights are some of the most common methods used to do this.
Depending upon the size of the facility, weather conditions and the nature of the evacuation, it may be necessary to have more than one safe assembly area. When more than one assembly area is available, it may be difficult to predict which one any particular employee will choose.
Evacuation wardens need to be mindful of this, and wardens need to be available at all assembly locations.
Practice and review
Review accountability procedures during trainings, and incorporate them into every evacuation drill. This allows everyone to become familiar with the process and helps to determine if the processes being used will be effective in an actual emergency. Regular drills also help everyone to behave more predictably and avoid panic in emergency situations.
In the chaos following a fire, explosion or other type of incident that necessitates an evacuation, ensuring the safety of everyone onsite is the first priority. Having a solid plan to account for everyone and being able to quickly provide an assessment to outside first responders when they arrive can prevent fatalities and hasten rescue efforts when they are critically needed.