Keys to a Successful Fire Drill

by Scott Owens, PMP, CBCP on March 21st, 2012

“C’mon, Bob, the fire alarm is going off, we need to get out of the building”. 
“I know, I saw the memo about the fire drill today, just need to finish this email – only another minute or so.  Besides, most of my department is ignoring it, so what is the big deal?”

Have you seen this scenario at your office?  Once or twice a year the office manager announces the need for a fire drill.  Many people roll their eyes and plan to be out of the office to avoid the ‘unproductive madness’.  So when the fire drill alarm goes off, you will frequently see the prairie-dogging phenomenon – cubicle dwellers pop their heads up to see what the rest of their coworkers are going to do.  The momentum of the teams toward the door can often be predicted based on the habits of others, not on what the firm expects of them.

But these drills truly do have value.  Studies show that large percentages of employees do not know the best route out of the building if their main route is blocked.  Research also indicates that in less than 60 seconds, a fire can fill a room with enough smoke to make it disorienting and difficult to find exits.  For the same reason high performance athlete’s train before the big game, practicing fire drills makes success more likely during the real event.

So how do you build a fire drill process that instills the importance of safety into your team?

Start at the top.  Company executives must be committed to the program and support it not with lip service and a corporate policy in the employee handbook that no one will read, but in person at the next company meeting.  The CEO and the management team must all be on board.  And they must lead by example.  That means when the fire alarm goes off, the corporate leaders are the first ones out of their offices encouraging others to drop what they are going and get out of the building. 

Second, set a goal for a reasonable amount of time to have everyone out.  This will depend on the size of the facility, the number of people, and a few other factors, but less than 2-3 minutes should be a target.  Every time a drill occurs, assign a person to keep a stopwatch going and try to beat your previous time.  Adding a little game to the drill keeps it fun.  If you have more than one facility, set up a competition between them.  Offer free company gear (hats, t-shirts, coffee mugs, etc.) to the teams that meet certain goals.  Plan a pizza party if the fire drill’s results improve over last time – it is amazing what people will do for free pizza.

But getting out of the building is not the end of the drill.  How do you know every person is out? Each department, team, or floor should have a Fire Captain assigned that will both sweep their area looking for those still at their desks or those that need assistance, and perform a roll call when teams have arrived at their designated meeting spot (usually in the parking lot).  The Fire Captains should be able to account for every person, either present at the safety spot, or via knowledge that they are out of the office.  Additionally, the receptionist should bring the guest log book if one exists to account for visitors that may not know where to go. 

Finally, the office manager should meet briefly with the Fire Captains to discuss any issues or concerns regarding the goals set for evacuation.  A brief report should be shared with all employees on how well the drill went and if it achieved its objectives.  Following this process should help turn your ho-hum fire drill into an event that you can be proud of, and an organization that places a priority on the safety of its workforce.

Posted in not categorized    Tagged with Fire Drill, Best Practices, Business Continuity Plan, Emergency Management


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