Should I stay or should I go? (Evacuation and sheltering tips when away from home)

evacuation-911-nycEvacuations are quite common and happen for a number of reasons — fires, floods, mudflows, hurricanes, or chemical spills on the roads or railways. Most preparedness data for the general public focuses on things to do around your home before, during and after an evacuation.

But what if you are at work or school or traveling? Things can happen near your workplace that can force evacuations or sheltering-in-place as seen recently in Paris when terrorists were holed up at a business … or during active shooter incidents at workplaces or schools. And sometimes accidents happen when riding public transit like Washington DC and New York City experienced recently with fires at their train stations.

Whenever these types of emergencies or incidents happen hopefully people take a moment to reflect on some things like…

  • Would you, your co-workers and loved ones know what to do and where you would go if you had to evacuate from work, daycare, school, nursing home, etc?
  • What if you had to shelter-in-place for several hours or even days at work, school or someplace away from home?
  • Have you done evacuation and shelter-in-place drills at work, school or home?
  • Do you have meet up places established so you can rejoin your co-workers and family if you’re not able to go back to work or home?
  • Have you discussed these things with your family members, neighbors and fellow workers?
  • If not, why not?

People don’t need to live in fear but we all should take time to think about various scenarios that might impact your daily lives so you’ll know what to do if something happens. And when you are out in public or using mass transit, more of us should start making a habit of being more aware of our surroundings. You don’t have to be paranoid or obvious – just make a mental note of the EXITS when you go to places or ride public transit, and watch for things that look strange or out of place.

Many of us spend as much time at work or school as we do at home so we tend to get complacent and comfortable with our surroundings. Managers, owners and school administrators should develop plans for a “shelter-in-place” scenario as well as have an evacuation plan in place for employees, students, visitors and customers that may be in your facility during a crisis. And hopefully management and administrators are proactive about explaining these plans with staff and everyone participates in monthly or quarterly drills. If they don’t, encourage them to start doing it and below are some very basic tips to get the ball rolling.

Things to plan for if instructed to “Shelter-in-place” at work:

  • Listen to local authorities and tune in radio or TV for updates.
  • If possible, know who’s in the building if there is an emergency.
  • Set up a warning system (and remember folks with hearing or vision disabilities or non-English speaking workers).
  • Determine which room or area will be used for shelter for each type of disaster in advance (i.e. some emergencies require staying above ground – others may be best underground or in a sealed room). Discuss ideas with others in your building or complex or with First Responders.
  • Calculate air requirements for sealed room in the event of a hazardous materials incident.
  • Consider installing a safe room at your facility to provide protection from the high winds expected during hurricanes, tornadoes and from flying debris. Shelters built below ground provide the best protection, but could be flooded during heavy rains.
  • Assign certain people to grab Kits, take headcounts, seal off room, etc. and have backups lined up in case someone’s off or injured.
  • Take a headcount or have a checklist of people in shelter.
  • Practice, practice, practice — make sure employees know shelter-in-place plans and be ready to explain procedures to newbies not familiar with your plans (like customers or suppliers who might be at your building when an event occurs).

Things to plan for when making an “Evacuation plan” at work:

  • If possible, know who’s in the building if there is an emergency.
  • Decide in advance who in your staff and your building has the authority to order an evacuation. And if local authorities tell you to leave – DO it!
  • Determine who is in charge of shutting down critical operations and systems and locking doors (if possible) during evacuation.
  • Draw a map of your shop or building and mark locations of exits, disaster and first aid kits, fire extinguishers and utility shut-off points. Plan at least two escape routes from different sections of facility. Post copies of maps so employees can find them easily and share copies with local First Responders.
  • Set up a warning system (and remember folks with hearing or vision disabilities or non-English speaking workers).
  • Have flashlights handy or install emergency lighting to help staff exit safely. (Note: never use lighters since there may be gas leaks.)
  • Pick two meeting places (assembly sites) in advance for staff to go – one near the facility and one further away. Also discuss how employees should notify someone if they need to leave the site or aren’t able to reach one.
  • Take a headcount or have a checklist of people at assembly site.
  • Practice, practice, practice — make sure employees know evacuation plans and be ready to explain procedures to newbies not familiar with your plans (like customers or suppliers who might be at your building when an event occurs). Practice drills with other tenants or businesses in your complex and share plans and ideas.

Download some free topics from our preparedness and first aid manual (including things to do before, during and after evacuating your home) at www.fedhealth.net/look-inside-book.html

And learn more about our customizable preparedness and first aid book and PDF ebook and funding programs at www.fedhealth.net in case this “tool” can help your agency, business, volunteer group, faith-based organization, school, family and/or community. Stay safe ~ j & B

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