Anyone in the fire service for an extended period of time has seen a number of changes in the type and level of services we provide. Our services continually evolve to address the needs of our customers and the hazards we now face. Some may even remember when hazmat was new to our response duties.
We now face many operational challenges. Has your fire and life safety education programs also evolved to meet the needs of your customers? Often a missing component in fire and life safety education is emergency preparedness and evacuation planning for both the business and residential community.
How prepared is your business community in the event of an emergency?
We are pretty sure they have some form of emergency plan that either their corporate office required or their insurance company required them to construct. However, the fire code you are enforcing likely has requirements for certain occupancies to have an approved fire safety and evacuation plan reviewed and approved by your fire department.
Some occupancies have evacuation drill frequency requirements. Nationally recognized fire codes require this only in certain occupancies because of the density and location of the building occupants. The primary focus of evacuation plans is to prepare to manage people and their specific role in evacuations.
If your fire department is not involved in the consultation of the development of such plans, you should consider your ability to assist them, as you are the local expert that can provide a tremendous resource to these businesses.
Since September 11, 2001 businesses have become more aware of their need to better prepare for emergencies. The risk of pandemic flu, natural disasters and potential terrorist threats has created a significant need for better information and coordination for management and staff.
Unfortunately, there are many general assumptions frequently made in boilerplate emergency and evacuation plans which may not take into account your fire department's operational functions, capabilities and needs. It makes sense for your department to take an active roll in helping formulate these plans for the most beneficial results possible.
One of the greatest benefits of this type of collaboration is allowing the crisis team of the business meet the fire department in a setting prior to an actual emergency. Coordinating the development and implementation of the plan before the incident occurs will only make our job of managing the incident easier.
It is fair to assume during an emergency; things really don't go well, even with the best of preparation. There is a saying in our job, "why plan when we can react so well?" Truth is, we do react pretty well most of the time, but as we know, preplanning is critical to our fire department's success. Preplanning for businesses that typically don't routinely face emergency situations and calamities is even more important.
These plans need to consider multiple threats to their business if they are going to be effective. Also, these plans need to be simple if they are going to be followed by lay-people. This can be really tough as multiple issues and threats become very difficult to boil down to simple explanation and definitions.
Threats can include but not be limited to:
- Weather issues such as blizzards, tornados, hurricanes, floods, etc.
- Power failures
- Terrorist attacks
- Pandemic flu
Some of these situations may involve evacuation or even relocation. Other incidents may require defending in place. Still others may mandate major modification of business practices including becoming a shelter or resource center depending upon the type of facility. As can be seen, there can be many considerations that most lay-people just don't have the technical expertise to develop and organize.