A Guide to Planning Security and Evacuation Routes in Commercial Buildings

Whether a fire erupts, extreme weather, flooding, explosions, or violent threats occur, an evacuation plan must be in place. When an emergency happens, panic tends to follow, so having an evacuation route and plan in place can save lives

The OHSA indicates important things that should be in a business evacuation plan, yet not every emergency requires evacuation. Lots will depend on what kind of emergency you are facing together with your building’s characteristics such as materials used and the number of floors. When creating an evacuation plan, it should also specify what conditions require evacuation.

Is Evacuation Necessary?

To determine if evacuation is necessary, it’s necessary to evaluate if your commercial property is located in a region at risk for weather events, or other types of risks.

Consider that in some events, it may be better to shelter in place rather than evacuate. In extreme weather, it may be safer inside as in the case of dangerous chemicals contaminating the air. For these types of emergencies, you will need a safe room or area inside the commercial building. Ideally, this space where employees, customers, or visitors can assemble should not have windows.

Who Decides an Evacuation Is Necessary? 

When an emergency arises, management and employees must know what their role is in the emergency plan. Is there a trained security team member that can decide when an evacuation is needed? If your building has more than one floor, who is responsible for evacuating other floors? Who will call emergency services and first responders? In an effective evacuation plan, everyone on the staff must know what they need to do, and they should have the proper training to do so.

Identifying Emergency Exits, Routes, and Equipment

Exits, evacuation routes, and emergency equipment must be marked and identifiable and they must be free of obstruction 24/7. If your building includes stairwells, or basements that have no windows, these interior spaces should have clear exit markings that will glow in the dark should lighting and electricity fail.

There should be at least 2 exit routes established and the exits should be distanced as much as possible one from the other. Doors should open outward and lock or unlock from the inside.

Together with evacuation plans, contact details for emergency services and first responders as well as communication methods for an emergency must be well-defined and provided to designated staff members.

More than One Floor

Buildings with more than one floor are more challenging when it comes to evacuation plans, and high-rise buildings can be exceptionally complicated. Each floor in your commercial building should have an evacuation plan, and it should be posted and visible. Staff members need to be selected and trained to evacuate other employees, visitors, or customers. This staff member will be responsible for making sure everyone is accounted for and then evacuated. Access control systems with IP surveillance cameras can aid in determining how many people were in a building or present on a given floor at the time that the emergency happened.

Aiding Employees and Guests in the Evacuation

A common best practice is to have an evacuation manager for every 15 to 20 employees and guests. The evacuation manager will close fire doors, check offices and areas for people, and access a visitor log to verify the whereabouts of guests and that they manage to get to an exit and leave safely.

Who Stays Behind?

When an evacuation is necessary, it’s unlikely that everything in the building can be shut off immediately, particularly if a commercial building is used for manufacturing purposes. One or more staff members may need to remain after everyone has been evacuated to turn off utilities and equipment or to monitor them. These staff members need to know when they must leave to ensure their safety.

Safety Equipment

Some emergencies can benefit from emergency equipment being available for those inside a building. These might include but are not limited to:

  • Fire extinguishers
  • Hard hats
  • Safety gloves
  • Safety goggles or glasses
  • Protective shoes or clothing
  • Respirators 

Each floor should have well-stocked and maintained emergency equipment in an identifiable storage location. Respirators may be necessary if certain hazards are present.  The type of respirator will depend on the type of risk, as there are four categories. The locations of storage facilities should appear in your emergency plan.

Accounting for Everyone 

Assembly zones should be designated for emergency events. Should an evacuation take place, once assembly occurs, head counts should be taken of all staff and guests. Cloud-based access control that can be remotely accessed from a smartphone or tablet can provide a digital log showing who should be present at the headcount.

Security and evacuation planning should be updated at regular intervals.

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