Employers should have emergency evacuation plans in
place to safeguard their workers
Emergency preparedness was catapulted to the top of the business
agenda following the Sept. 11 terrorist atrocities, but experts
now fear the development of action plans may be put on the back
burner as concerns fade.
"After time passes we tend to forget about disaster planning
and preparedness. Immediately after (Sept. 11) there was a lot
of attention focused on it, but it has declined a little bit,"
said David McEntire, coordinator of the University of North Texas'
Institute of Emergency Administration and Planning.
"But it is fair to say more people recognize the importance
of planning and preparedness," he said.
While terrorist acts may be the focus of most emergency planning
attention at present, in reality there is far more risk from the
likes of tornadoes and other weather-related disasters, hazardous
materials leaks and fire. In many such cases speedy evacuation
of any affected building is essential.
Nasario Gonzales, safety and health manager for technical support
and outreach programs at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration
regional office in Dallas, said employers' emergency and fire
prevention plans are, in part, dictated by Federal Code 29 CFR
Among the requirements, OSHA's code 1910.38 states that employers'
emergency action plans must include emergency escape procedures
and emergency escape route assignments. The plan must be in writing
and must be made available to employees on request. An business
with 10 or fewer employees is permitted to communicate its plan
OSHA also mandates that an employer should train a sufficient
number of persons to assist with a safe and orderly emergency
evacuation. No guidelines are given regarding what represents
a sufficient number. An employer also must have an alarm system
with a distinct signal for each type of emergency, and there must
be procedures to account for all employees after evacuating the
premises. Checks to ensure buildings meet local and federal standards
can be carried out by an inspector from the OSHA regional office
or officials from a local fire department.
Gonzales said most businesses he has inspected for OSHA have
some type of written plan. However, sometimes the plans are not
in full compliance with OSHA standards. If a business is found
to be in violation of the rules a fine may be imposed of between
$100 and $5,000, depending on the severity of the violation, Gonzales
As well as ensuring the safety of employees, there are several
other reasons why a business should have an emergency action plan,
"Not planning for an emergency can be devastating to a
business," McEntire said. "There are public relations
issues. Company customers or employees can form lawsuits. (The
company's) reputation can be hurt, and that can affect future
Before compiling an emergency evacuation plan, a business should
begin by understanding its vulnerabilities, McEntire said.
Safety experts say employers should be aware of the type of disaster
that could occur, whether it be a natural disaster, shooting,
terrorist attack, biological warfare or something else. They also
need to be very familiar with their building's layout, the number
of stairwells and whether the building has fire sprinklers or
The second step is to consider the number of people in the
building and the best procedures for their evacuation. Depending
on the type of emergency, that could mean going down stairwells
or heading to the roof for helicopter rescue, McEntire said. An
emergency plan also needs to take into account and make arrangements
for the elderly, disabled and those with language differences,
The Dallas Infomart has had an extensive emergency plan in
place for some time.
"It is already sufficient and far-reaching, and we feel
that it continues to be excellent. It covers a full range of emergencies,"
said Nancy Windrow-Pearce, director of marketing for the Infomart.
With more than 100 tenants on seven floors, the Infomart has
about 3,000 people under its roof. The emergency action plans
are overseen by Roger Harris, director of security, and a security
staff of 20, with additional outsourced staff from the Dallas
Smaller offices and buildings, however, may not have such comprehensive
resources -- and safety managers often are the first to go when
a company tightens its belt, one safety expert said. But several
resources exist that can help such companies devise an emergency
OSHA, for example, refers businesses to its OSHA Training Institute
in Mesquite. Another option is to use a safety management consultant.
The services of Mesquite-based safety consultants Horton Environmental
Services, for example, cost from $200 for small businesses to
5 cents per square foot for larger ones. Local chapters of the
Association of Contingency Planners have information about safety
But even nonspecialists can devise an emergency evacuation
"A lot of it is just common sense," McEntire said.
He advises those handling an evacuation plan for a business
to speak to emergency or risk managers or the American Red Cross
and read about disaster planning.
"The plan doesn't have to be 100 pages thick," McEntire
said. "Just have steps prepared to take in case something
Credit for this article goes to Sandra Zaragoza who's a Staff
Writer with the Dallas Business Journal.