During my time as an Office Manager, I’ve seen (oddly) many types of evacuation drills and scenarios from fires or false alarms which are pretty typical to flooding (from a ceiling!).

It’s probably pretty obvious where this blog will take us, in that I am in favour of evacuation drills and ensuring employees, visitors, contractors and those in charge of supporting an evacuation e.g. fire wardens are well versed on what to do, where to go and how to ensure they are safe and sound should anything ever happen.

What can you control when it’s out of your control?

What’s not always obvious to me is why people don’t seem to take them seriously. When you look at the recent and tragic events this year, both in regards to the terrorist attacks and Grenfell Tower in my view, it should dawn on people that these things can happen to anyone, at any time. We simply can’t control everything happening around us. What you can control, however is being in the know of how to get out quickly and safely if something does happen.

It’s a legal requirement

It’s a legal requirement for commercial premises to carry out an evacuation drills at least annually, and you’d be surprised at the number of businesses I’ve seen who don’t adhere to this. It is disruptive and a bit of a pain in the backside – but it could save your life if the unexpected does happen.

If you are not sure ask!

At the very least, when you join a company you should be given an induction tour; it may only last a few minutes but what should be highlighted is how to evacuate from your building and where to go upon leaving, known as the assembly point. If you don’t receive this on your first day or a pack showing you how to leave the building, ask about their evacuation drills! Ask to be shown how to get out and what to do, and who is in charge of this aspect for your company – probably a Fire Warden or Health & Safety Officer.

You should also have a noticeboard or an area where the fire evacuation plan is shown, along with the HSE’s poster of Health & Safety Law which you can refer to as and when you may need to. It should also display your First Aider(s) and your employer’s liability insurance.

Back to the evacuation…

The time I saw the ceiling cave in and flood like a waterfall was at a large investment bank. It was pretty sudden, a few drops initially and then a burst covering around 2-3m in width covering a trading bank of desks.

We raised the alarm to evacuate our section of the floor (the whole building wasn’t necessary at this point) and to evacuate the floor below. During this, there were a number of staff flapping (the only way to really describe it) unsure if what to do, or where to go despite being shown at the time. Some staff wanted to go back to their desks to grab ‘their notepad’ or ‘finish that email’ which of course, we prevented.

Even in this scenario, it surprised me that people didn’t just want to be out of potential harm and out of the way for the engineers to deal with the leak. I was once told during a training session by a Fire Officer that people can change during emergency situations – those who are normally loud can become quiet and frozen, and those who are quiet can sometimes flip into action being the loudest of all to get people out safely.

The point is, you just never know what will happen or how you or others around you will react – so why would you not take the opportunity to simulate this situation seriously? It could save your life one day just by listening to that induction tour, or asking how to get out safely and where to go.