Evacuation Is Not Enough.

By Don Williams.

News footage of the evacuation from an aged care facility at night drives home an important lesson: Getting people out of the building isn’t enough!  If such an evacuation was to occur during rain or hail, the death toll could be considerably higher than that caused by the event necessitating the evacuation.  To remove people from one hazard, only to expose them to others, is blatantly inappropriate.

For the mobile, active public, providing a suitable, safe and sheltered environment should be a consideration; although, some argue that “once they are out of the building, they can look after themselves”.  For those who are physically or mentally less agile, there is a need to ensure that they are protected.

Effective emergency management plans must not only consider how people will be removed from a hazard, but also how they will be protected once evacuated.  The aged, ill, infirmed and very young need to be protected from the elements, the effects of the hazard and possibly from other people.

The role of the Emergency Planning Committee and Chief Warden is “to provide for the safety of occupants of that facility and its visitors.” (AS3745-2010 Managing Emergencies in Facilities).  The role of the Security Manager is to protect the assets of the business.  People are a recognised asset of all organisations and the Security Manager has a responsibility and duty to ensure that, particularly those most vulnerable, are protected at all times, including during an emergency.  Therefore, there is an obvious shared responsibility for the two disciplines to work together to protect all people during their evacuation and after.

AS3745 provides for “minimum requirements for the establishment, validation and implementation of an emergency plan for a facility to provide for the safety of occupants of that facility and its visitors leading up to and during an evacuation.” (Part 1.1).  The Standard also requires “Identifying the possible consequences of each emergency to people within the facility and their vulnerability before, during and after the emergency.” (para 3.2b)

Evacuation plans usually concentrate on getting people out of the facility and away from an internal hazard with little regard for protecting the people once they are off the site.

Many templated emergency procedures are based on a common document with what appears to be an insert client’s name here approach.  While such procedures may provide a minimum level of compliance, they do not necessarily reflect the needs of the actual occupants or the functions, structure or requirements of the client or the facility.  This is of particular concern where special needs occupants are involved and the plan stops with everyone assembled on the footpath or nearest park with no consideration for what happens next.

Also, such plans often have sections that do not relate to the facility and do not mention the particular intricacies of the site.  While an organisation may hire external agencies to draft the emergency plans, the responsibility remains with the Emergency Planning Committee/Chief Warden and the Security Manager to ensure that the plans are adequate and appropriate.  Buying and implementing a plan without reviewing it, is both dangerous and irresponsible.

AS3745 (4.2.11) requires Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEP) to be raised for all those who require special consideration.  The example in Annex D to AS3745 is designed to be filled out by the person identified with special needs. This raises issues for those not capable of completing such a form, such as infants, or those with cognitive limitations.  The Standard and Annex do not provide guidance on how the person is to be cared for once evacuated.

Specific questions for protecting the vulnerable include:

  • Does the site have groups of aged, immobile,  intellectually impaired or very young occupants or visitors?
  • How do we determine for which occupants we have a responsibility?
  • Which foreseeable hazards exist?
  • How do we protect those we are responsible for, once we have evacuated them from the site?
  • If medication is required, how will it be provided? (What if controlled drugs are required?)
  • What information is required to assist each person (prescriptions, health records, etc.) and how can it be accessed?
  • What will happen if re-occupation of the site is not possible?
  • Where do our boundaries (legal, physical, moral and temporal) lie?

Once the key questions have been asked and answered, the emergency plan, procedures and training should be reviewed to ensure that they provide adequate protection during and after an evacuation.  In particular, the plan should:

  • Identify who is at risk
  • Identify the hazards that could reasonably be expected during and after an evacuation
  • Weather
  • Traffic and road hazards leading to the nominated assembly area(s)
  • Crowds, including other sites using the same assembly areas
  • Other
  • Identify reasonable protective measures/procedures/equipment that can be deployed at any time
  • Be adaptable to provide adequate protection.

Solutions for protecting the evacuated, aged infirmed, infants and other vulnerable people after hours or during rain, cold, etc. might include:

  • The use of tentage or similar shelters that have been pre-purchased and held onsite – perhaps to be used primarily as shelters for outside events.  The plan would need to ensure that these items were accessible, complete and easily assembled by those onsite after hours.
  • Prearranged access to local halls (scout, schools, CWA, etc.)
  • Prearranged agreements with local hospitals or other care facilities
  • Prearranged payment methods for the use of taxis, etc. to move evacuees
  • The identification of which costs can be recouped through insurance cover

While reviewing the emergency plan to ensure special-needs people are protected after leaving the site, a review of other post-evacuation considerations may also be of value:

  • The analysis of which hazards all evacuees may be exposed to
  • Weather
  • Traffic (crossing, major roads)
  • Smoke, blast, fragments, falling debris or other products from the initial hazard (and therefore the ability to access alternate assembly areas)
  • Crowd crush
  • Lack of medical equipment and support
  • Identification of suitable assembly areas that provide protection, i.e. those under cover
  • Consideration of who else might want to use the assembly areas at the same time
  • Communication with those evacuated, particularly if they are released from the assembly area
  • Transport for staff who cannot access their cars or bikes
  • If there are onsite car parks, contingency plans for the paying public who cannot access their cars

The above list and other considerations for what can happen after the building is evacuated, will affect the image and ongoing profitability of the organisation. These are factors which the Security Manager should identify and raise for discussion.

Conclusion

Images of an aged care facility being evacuated at night demonstrates the need to review emergency plans to ensure that they address not just the removal of people from the building, but also their protection once they have been evacuated.

A broader review of post-evacuation planning will highlight other areas where the organisation may be at risk.  Perhaps a review of the scope of emergency plans is needed?

Don Williams CPP holds qualifications in Security Management and Security Risk Management as well as Project and Resource Management and is a Certified Protection Professional.  Don has provided professional consultancy services on security and strategic security analysis for over 25 years.  Don can be contacted at donwilliams@dswconsulting.com.au