Assembly Points: Getting it Right
Having an effective evacuation procedure in place is not only vital for the safety of people within a premises, it is also a legal requirement as dictated by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order.
From specifying and clearly indicating an escape route to ensuring that alarm systems are fully operational, tailoring an evacuation process for a premises is vital for ensuring a quick and safe exit in the event of a fire. It is the duty of the ‘Responsible Person’ (as specified in the RRFSC) in charge of a property’s fire safety assessment to construct the evacuation route, keeping it clear of hazards and making this information available to all occupants.
One of the crucial elements of any evacuation plan is determining an assembly point at which all evacuating persons will convene once they have exited the building. The location of the designated spot is all-important, as detailed below, and other considerations, such as sufficient safe access for emergency services, must be made.
It might sound obvious, but the fundamental factor for deciding on the location of your assembly point should be its distance from the building. Keeping all persons well away from flames and smoke is paramount, and a gap of 50 feet between property and assembly point is ideal to avoid debris from collapsing structures.
The number of people regularly occupying your building will determine the necessary size of your assembly point, as one that is too small will encourage some to wander off elsewhere to find a place to stand. Enclosed areas, such as gardens and courtyards, are not appropriate.
As with the above, the route taken to reach your assembly point is also an important consideration. Although the way needs to be as direct as possible, there should be no potential obstructions for those with mobility issues, and the need to cross roads should be avoided to prevent panicked occupants of a building from stepping into oncoming traffic.
Clearly signposted directions (particularly for fire exits, which should be illuminated at all times with emergency lighting) are a must – even though fire marshals should be guiding people to assembly points, this may not always be possible.
Once fully assembled, it is vital that a register of all building occupants is taken to ensure that none are left inside. This should be done by a single fire marshal to avoid duplication, with any managers accounting for the presence of their team members.
The assembly point must not obstruct access for emergency services – most obviously fire engines. Trained fire marshals or the designated ‘Responsible Person’ should be on hand to communicate with fire services, informing them of any potential hazards or persons unaccounted for.
If the alarm that triggered the evacuation turns out to be false, then it is up to the designated fire marshals to determine whether it is safe to re-enter the building. On no account should re-entry occur with a fire alarm still sounding.
In extreme circumstances, such as severe weather conditions or blocked access, a backup assembly point is necessary if the original is unreachable. This should be determined in advance, and is the duty of the ‘Responsible Person’ to inform as to its location.
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