What comes to your mind when you hear emergency response? No matter what the situation, if you have never dealt with it, things can and will go wrong, quickly. Now think about your workplace. Do you conduct fire and severe weather drills? What would you and your colleagues do if one of these situations arose? Only by conducting, assessing, and repeating the drills can you be prepared in case the real thing happens. Don’t get me wrong; our hope is you never need to enact your plans, but if you do, I would rather have you prepared for these emergencies than try to learn on the fly.
In planning for an emergency, where do you start? The two big emergencies are fire and severe weather. Both are easy enough to address. But you need to determine a few other items, as well.
- Who is responsible for ensuring the plans are up to date?
- If there is no pull alarm, how do you alert everyone that there is a fire/severe weather alert?
- Where are the gathering points for employees after the alarm goes off?
- Who will assign duties as needed?
- 1. Who is responsible for ensuring everyone is in the safe area/meeting place?
- 2. Who is responsible for accounting for everyone who was in the building?
- Who will call the fire department if there is no automatic alarm to the station?
- Who will determine when to conduct drills?
- Who will observe, critique, and offer ideas on how to improve performance after the drills?
Note: In case of severe weather, you will need to ensure the safe area is stocked with a form of communication to the outside, first aid supplies, a flashlight, and extra batteries.
When we talk about severe weather, we are talking about blizzards, floods, and tornadoes. Since they are unpredictable in nature, having a weather radio and the latest weather update delivered to your smartphone is usually a good idea. Of course, similar to a fire, you should have a plan in place and complete a few easy steps before starting.
No matter what you come up with for your policies, practice makes perfect, and learning to do something in the heat of an emergency does not go well.
Sample response plans for fire and severe weather are below.
If a fire occurs or you detect smoke or a burning odor, determine if the fire can be put out or if emergency services are needed.
If emergency services are needed:
- Immediately pull the closest fire alarm to initiate building evacuation.
- Call “911” or your local emergency number.
- DO NOT use elevators.
- After all personnel have been cleared from the area, close all doors to the immediate area of the fire to help isolate the smoke and the fire.
- Call your local management team and report the fire.
- Contact your company’s security provider.
- Have a site employee meet emergency services at the entrance to the site and direct them to the location of the fire.
- DO NOT go back into the building. Re-enter only after the all-clear is given by the fire department.
Note: Critical Equipment
When fire conditions permit, it is necessary to shut down critical equipment that may significantly contribute to existing fire hazards. Any or all of these actions shall not be performed when they may endanger responsible personnel due to the conditions or circumstances of the fire. Affected equipment and responsible personnel are identified in the table to follow. (See chart below as an example. Delete contents and replace with site-specific information.)
If the fire is small and can be easily and safely extinguished:
- FIGHT the fire ONLY if it is SMALL and can be easily extinguished using a fire extinguisher.
- Evacuate the area of all personnel.
- Have an employee on standby to call 911 if the fire gets out of control.
- Call your local management team and report the fire.
- Use the proper fire extinguisher to fight the fire if there is no additional danger.
- Keeping your back to the nearest emergency exit, use the PASS method for using fire extinguishers.
1. P – Pull the pin.
2. A – Aim low and point the extinguisher nozzle at the base of the fire.
3. S – Squeeze the handle. This releases the extinguishing agent.
4. S – Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire until it appears to be out. Watch the fire area. If fire breaks out again, repeat use of the extinguisher. (If you can’t sweep side to side over the whole fire, it is too big to be fighting; get out of the building.)
- If at any time the fire gets too big to fight, immediately EVACUATE via the nearest safe exit.
Should threatening weather conditions develop:
- Use your location’s weather alert radio to monitor the approach and severity of the weather:
1. Tornado Watch means weather conditions are favorable to the formation of tornadoes.
2. Tornado Warning means a tornado has been sighted in your area.
- If the weather service issues a severe weather or tornado warning for your area, the following warning should be issued to employees in the entire building/location by a PA system, bullhorn, or other appropriate means:
Please take cover in your designated shelter areas.”
- Call the local management team, and ensure they know about the weather situation.
- Close all doors; stay away from windows.
- Employees should move to pre-assigned shelters. Each group should take a battery-powered radio and a flashlight into the shelter.
- Remain in the shelter until an all-clear is given.
Use a chart or your own system to keep track of designated shelters especially if you have multiple buildings.
- Inside walls on opposite side of corridor from which storm is approaching.
- Restrooms without windows.
- Interior hallways on lowest or ground floor (no windows, doors secured at either end).
Areas to avoid:
- Rooms with large roof spans like auditoriums.
- End rooms in one-story buildings.
- Rooms with large glass areas.
- Hallways that could become wind tunnels.
When on the road: If you’re in a car, don’t attempt to drive out of the way of a tornado. Tornadoes are very unpredictable in their movements. Get out of your car and lie flat in the nearest ditch or ravine, face down with your hands over the back of your head.
- Keep calm and stay where you are. Most injuries during earthquakes occur when people decide to enter or exit buildings.
- If you are indoors, take cover under a desk or table or against an inside wall or wood-framed doorway. Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors or walls, and anything that could fall on you, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
- In a high-rise building, stay in the building on the same floor. Get under a desk and away from windows and outside walls. Don’t use elevators!
- Don’t be alarmed if the electricity goes off or if the sprinkler system or fire alarm activates. This often happens during earthquakes.
- If you are outdoors, stay there. Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.
- Be prepared for aftershocks. These secondary shockwaves are usually less violent than the main quake but can be strong enough to do additional damage to weakened structures.
- Use flashlights or battery-powered lanterns. DO NOT use candles, matches, or open flames indoors after an earthquake because of possible gas leaks.
- Do not use lights, gas, or electricity until the utility company has ensured that they are safe to use. A spark from any source, including light switches, can result in an explosion if a gas leak is present.
- Monitor approaching winter storm conditions: freezing rain, sleet, heavy snow, sustained high winds, and wind chill.
- Ensure that employees are aware of cold weather safety rules and understand company policy for operating or closing under adverse weather conditions.
- In heavy rains, be aware of flash floods. If you see any possibility of a flash flood occurring, move immediately to a safer location.
- Monitor reports on flood conditions. If advised to evacuate:
1. Move essential records off-site if there is time.
2. Secure the buildings.
3. Lock doors and windows.
4. Turn off electricity and water at the main switches or valves.
- The site shall designate weather watcher(s), for example, personnel who actively look for signs of threatening weather and notify everyone if severe weather becomes dangerous.
- There shall be an established means by which lightning safety decisions and procedures will be communicated effectively to employees in the field. This could be by use of cell phone, “call-them-all” systems, or two-way radios.
- There shall be an established means to monitor local weather conditions and weather advisories/warnings both prior to and during the severe weather.
- Any time lightning is sighted/identified by means of electronic device or verbal or visual notification and/or the flash-to-bang method shows that the lightning is within the 0-10 mile radius, all outside work will be stopped and employees will be moved indoors.
- Employees will wait a minimum of 30 minutes after the last lightning flash was sighted and get permission from the manager in charge before starting up outside operations again.
Senior Loss Control Representative