Security Laboratory

Security Laboratory

Security Laboratory: IT Managers - Safety Series

This series of papers discusses the IT Manager's complex roles in establishing workplace and enterprise security.

Other Related Articles in Security Laboratory: IT Managers - Safety Series

Evacuation roles

By Stephen Northcutt

Having an evacuation plan may be required by law, an example would be the regulations for budget accomodations in Australia. But having a plan and practicing the plan are separate issues. "The importance of practicing a plan cannot be overemphasized. It solidifies employees' grasp of the plan, assists employees in recognizing they may need assistance in an emergency, and unveils weaknesses in emergency planning through a comprehensive analysis of employee feedback. To this end, it is imperative that all people participate and provide feedback regarding the successes and failures of a drill."1

"There are three types of drills: walkthrough drills, scheduled drills, and unannounced drills.

  • Walkthrough drills: These allow personnel to discuss possible difficulties and slowly practice evacuation techniques. For example, people might practice using an evacuation chair or carrying someone.
  • Scheduled Drills: Such drills provide an opportunity to practice evacuating people with disabilities in a slow and controlled environment. The procedures are methodically practiced by all.
  • Unannounced Drills: It is critical that unannounced drills occur only after scheduled drills. This sequence ensures that the problems are corrected, and people do not practice incorrectly. In addition, it is important that surprise drills are not held when emotions are high (e.g., around the anniversary of September 11th or following a highly-publicized criminal case.) Edwina Juillet, Co-Founder of the National Taskforce on Fire/Life Safety for People with Disabilities, recommends that emergency response staff (e.g., Floor Wardens) be notified prior to such drills, so that they can practice their responsibilities."2
Before practice can take place, employees need to understand their roles.3 The Meeting Point Leader is responsible for getting to the meeting point and beginning the process of accounting for all employees. The Meeting Point Leader should attempt to be the "first one out" in order to begin the process as rapidly as possible. The person in this role is often the individual, such as a personnel manager, who is most likely to know which employees were in the office. As soon as the Safety Warden arrives, the two should determine who among the employees is not accounted for so that information can be provided to Emergency Services.

The Safety Warden is responsible for ensuring that their team members are present or that backups are available. He or she is also in charge of training the searchers, monitors, and special needs assistants. As soon as the area is clear, he or she evacuates the building. The Safety Warden typically is the last one out, and often is a company officer or executive.

The Searchers are responsible for making sure all employees have left their stations; checking offices, restrooms and meeting rooms; closing all the doors; and, putting markers (post-its) on the bottom of each door so Emergency Response professionals know the rooms are clear.

The Stairwell / Door Monitors are responsible for directing employees to stairwells and exit doors and making sure they do not take dangerous materials with them (food/beverages can spill and cause accidents.) They are also responsible for handing off a flashlight to any employee going down the stairs in case there is a back-up power failure (dark stairwells can be very hazardous and create even more chaos.)

Special Needs Assistants are responsible for keeping an updated list of any employees needing assistance with evacuating in the case of an emergency. They are to assist in escorting the employees that need assistance to the nearest stairwell and, if necessary, alert Emergency Response personnel to their location for evacuation.

Finally, if not fulfilling a Meeting Point Leader or Safety Warden role, the employee has the responsibility to evacuate as quickly and safely as possible. The employee is to follow the directions of the Safety Team and report to the Meeting Point Leader immediately after evacuating the building.

Each employee should know how to react in all roles and should know who holds each titled role by default. During drills, different employees should be cross-trained in each role.

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Evacuation of 750,000
During Hurricane Andrew, which hit Southern Florida in August 1992, hurricane watches and warnings allowed emergency services to issue a voluntary, then mandatory, evacuation order. Eventually, more than 750,000 individuals were evacuated out of harm's way. This notification and evacuation is considered the primary reason for the remarkably low number of injuries and fatalities during and immediately after the storm.
*** End sidebar

Case study:
"The U.S. Coast Guard along with the Teralani 3 and Gemini catamarans responded to a distress call from the 55-foot Kiele V, owned and operated by the Hyatt, which had lost its mast about two miles off of Kahana Beach off of West Maui."4 According to the Honolulu Advertiser, "Two other people were taken in stable condition to Maui Memorial Hospital with injuries that weren't life-threatening.5 In this case, the standard for "life-threatening" seemed odd. They had both been struck in the back of the head by pieces of the falling mast and were bleeding seriously; Karrie Ross spent five days in intensive care. The Hyatt released a statement, "We are deeply saddened by this accident and our concern is for those who have been affected by this tragic event. We are in direct contact with the Coast Guard and other authorities involved to understand how the accident happened. In the meantime, our attention is focused on attending to the people involved."6 However, the story makes a good illustration of the importance of practice during evacuation. According to eye witnesses, the one man that perished when he was struck by the boom, Hal Pulfer, 48, of Highland Park, Ill., was talking during the safety briefing. Even though there were 6' seas and strong trades,7 the children were not in life jackets. Immediately following the initial event, the crew did not take a leadership role. The ship was sinking and there were still passengers without life jackets. While a nurse attended to Pulfer, the only one to help the next two most seriously injured passengers, Mike Kepel and Karrie Ross, was a veterinarian. At least one blog indicates that safety is not a primary concern in the industry and that the captain was not terribly prepared.8 Everybody in the story are good people we are sure; but you drill for emergencies if you want to survive an unexpected event and lead other people to safety.

"In 1914 Walter B. Cannon first coined the phrase "fight or flight" to describe the body's appropriate response to a stressful stimuli. When an individual is exposed to real or perceived danger, a series of complex, interactive neurophysiological reactions occur in the brain, the autonomic nervous system, the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenocortical (HPA) axis and the immune system. These responses evolved to provide the critical total body mobilization required for the individual to survive a life-threatening danger."9 "The degree of anxiety varies with the degree of threat, ranging from 'jitters' to outright panic and terror. In addition to changes in brain functioning, other organ systems are involved in the alarm reaction. The sympathetic division of the autonomic nervous system (SNS), which originates in the brain and distributes throughout the rest of the body, plays a major role in effecting and orchestrating the brain's mobilization of the rest of the body."10 The heart rate increases, breathing gets so fast you cannot get enough oxygen. The amazing thing is that these bodily changes may work against us when simply turning-and-running or fighting are not the only two choices. Reports vary, but in the World Trade Center bombing, one disabled woman apparently was too confused to use her evacuation chair.11 Only by practicing can we ensure that our minds and bodies will function under extreme stress.

2. See note 1 above
10. See note 9 above