When a building evacuation is necessary, doing so in a timely and orderly fashion is a must—whether it’s an actual emergency or a drill. The key to any evacuation is organization. Without it, you run the risk of confusion. People may panic, not know where to go, run into each other, and even trip over something and suffer an injury. With a plan, that you practice often, you can avoid these problems.

Every employer must have an evacuation plan as part of your overall Emergency Action Plan (EAP). If you don’t have an evacuation plan or haven’t reviewed it in a while, schedule some time to develop or update it as needed. You want to be prepared when the next emergency happens.

What your employees need to know about your emergency evacuation plan

Several factors could necessitate an evacuation. These include a fire in the building, a water main break, or a gas leak. Regional emergencies such as an earthquake or wildfire are other examples.

Depending on the size of your workplace, you may only have one exit or you could have multiple ways out. Everyone should use the closest exit when an alarm sounds or when told to evacuate. Your plan also needs to identify who is in charge during an evacuation and who may need to stay behind to shut down critical operations before leaving the building. You can fulfill these roles or designate them to employees. Make sure your employees know what their responsibilities are.

What your employees need to do during an emergency evacuation of the workplace

If your workplace has multiple floors, employees should evacuate using the stairs – elevators are not to be used during an evacuation.

For any building, regardless of the number of floors, follow these steps:

  • Know where all the exits are and use the closest one to leave the building.
  • Know where the designated meeting location is to meet up after evacuating to account for all employees.
  • Know who the person is to check in with at that location after evacuating.
  • Immediately head to the designated location after exiting the building and report to the person in charge of checking everyone in.

What to cover at your safety meeting on emergency evacuations

Practice the evacuation plan with periodic drills. You have the option to alert your workers that a drill is coming or make it a surprise. The latter option may work better because most of the emergencies you’ll face at work occur without warning.

The drill also provides real-time examples of some challenges everyone faces. For example, everyone—from each floor—flocks to the stairwell at the same time. So exiting by the stairs—especially if there’s only one or two options—takes time and patience. Practice patience during the drill. This will help your employees remain calm in the event of a real emergency evacuation.

Make sure your plan is available in English as well as a language understood by personnel who do not speak English. And, you need procedures for employees with disabilities. Be sure to cover these during training as well.