No matter how well designed and thought out an evacuation procedure is, it cannot be considered reliable until it is exercised and has proved to be workable.
Drills should be carefully planned and agreed with all relevant parties to be involved. Every drill should have clearly defined aims and objectives.
Within each building, the fire evacuation drill should be for all occupants except those who may need to ensure the security of the premises or people who, on a risk-assessed basis, are required to remain with particular equipment or processes that cannot be closed down.
If there are multiple shifts working in the building, then drills should be undertaken at different times of the day to include employees working shift patterns.
Where a building or site is shared with other occupants, e.g. in a business park, then attempts could be made to coordinate fire drills or at least have “desktop” reviews with neighboring tenants to share and test arrangements.
For premises that have more than one escape route, the fire drill should follow the assumption that one exit or stairway is unavailable because of the fire.
A designated person being located at a suitable point on an exit route could simulate this.
Applying this scenario to different escape routes at each fire drill will encourage individuals to use alternative escape routes they may not normally use.
It may not always be beneficial to have “surprise drills” as the health and safety risks introduced may outweigh the benefits. This should be determined as part of the overall risk assessment.
Planning a Drill
When planning a fire drill, the following factors need to be considered:
- Ensure that equipment can be safely left unattended (for the drill period).
- Nominate observers to determine the effectiveness of the drill (it may be necessary to provide such staff with training in this role).
- Inform the alarm-receiving center if the fire-warning system is monitored.
- Inform visitors and members of the public if they are present.
Ask a member of staff at random to set off the alarm by operating the nearest alarm call point using the test key.
This will indicate the level of knowledge regarding the location of the nearest call point.
Throughout the drill, the responsible person and nominated observers should pay particular attention to:
- Communication with regard to the roll call and establishing that everyone is accounted for;
- The use of the nearest available escape routes as opposed to common circulation routes;
- Difficulties with the opening of final exit doors;
- Difficulties that may be experienced by people with disabilities or mobility issues;
- The roles of specified people, e.g. fire wardens
- Inappropriate actions, e.g. stopping to collect personal items, attempting to use lifts;
- Windows and doors not being closed as people leave.
On-the-spot debriefs that encourage feedback from everybody are useful to discuss aspects of the fire drill.
Following the drill, reports from fire wardens and observations of people involved should be collated and reviewed.
Any conclusions and remedial actions should be recorded and implemented.