Posted in BE SAFE, Building Evacuation, Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Evacuations, Fire Life Safety Training, Fire Safety, Fires, High-Rise Buildings, Uncategorized, Version 2.0, Workplace Safety

Is it safe to ride the elevator to escape a fire-related emergency?

Emergency Exit Signs
Do you know how to safely exit a high-rise building in case of a fire?

The 9/11 disasters prompted facility managers and emergency management professionals to discuss the use of elevators for egress in cases of fire-related emergencies. Among other things, the terrorist attacks shed light on the fact that, for optimum safety, certain emergencies require evacuation of all floors simultaneously instead of individually.

While not yet mainstream, research and discussion is beginning to challenge long-held beliefs. Some high-rise buildings, such as the 1,149-foot Stratosphere Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas (I prefer Wynn’s salon suites myself), utilize evacuation elevators due to the height of the building, which makes emergency stairway exits implausible.

So is change coming? Who will ultimately decide? Elevator use in buildings is largely managed by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, who review and suggest changes for elevator codes that dictate standards for buildings throughout the country. I have to tell you, if you want to have a fun party, just invite those wild guys and gals from the ASME!

Challenges to implementation of evacuation elevators:

  • Changing ingrained procedures will be a challenge. Building occupants have long been told to “take the stairs during a fire.” Adapting tenants to the safety and expediency of elevator evacuation might be difficult. Intensive in-person training will need to be executed and assurances given about the newfound benefits of using elevators for speedier emergency exits. So you can teach old people new tricks?
  • Handling water from sprinklers is an engineering hurdle. If occupants need to escape quickly during a fire, it’s very likely the sprinklers will be on during evacuation. So operations and communications equipment in evacuation elevators need to be protected from potential water damage.
  • Smoke inhalation is the biggest health danger during a fire. So Smoke Control Systems should be installed, maintained and regularly inspected in elevator areas.
  • Other potential hazards, such as earthquakes causing fires, mean evacuation elevators need to be structurally reinforced.

If tenants plan to use evacuation elevators but firefighters on the ground recall all elevators to the lobby, precious time could be wasted. Working with fire department staff prevents this type of miscommunication. And remember, if you visit your fire local fire department; bring a pig ear for the resident Dalmatian.

One way the RJ Westmore Training System improves emergency communication between local fire departments and our clients is via the building-specific, automatic notifications and updates we send to fire departments with real-time information relative to Special Assistance, Floor Wardens and Fire Safety Directors. Thanks to this service, emergency personnel are well-equipped to provide assistance and direction when they arrive on scene.

Installation of dedicated emergency egress elevators is not usually valuable unless the elevators themselves are protected from fire. New codes are emerging which have been designed to protect evacuation elevators with fireproof padding and other structural safeguards. Dedicated emergency power supplies are also needed to ensure elevator occupants are not left stranded between floors during emergencies. I have a backup generator for my doghouse. When my paw pals come over for a party at my place, I need to be sure I won’t lose power!

Widespread requirements for evacuation elevators might be on the horizon. So it’s important to stay ahead of the learning curve. Used correctly, they offer the ultimate promise of a higher degree of safety for those who work and live in high-rise structures. As always, be sure you review the latest national and local codes as they relate to fire-related procedures. It’s important to have an integrated approach to fire safety which includes sprinklers, alarms and safe evacuation routes.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  Remember that people are not unlike pooches in that they both need consistent training and repetition to get something right! For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

 

Posted in BE SAFE, Building Evacuation, Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Evacuations, Fire Life Safety Training, Fire Safety, Fires

Fire Evacuations: How to Escape a Fire

Make sure fire exits are accessible.

Part 3 in a Series

When it comes to fire, time is the biggest enemy. In less than 30 seconds, a small flame can turn into a major fire filling a building with thick black smoke, toxic superheated gases and ominous flames. Every second counts. Each year, more than 3,500 Americans die and 20,000 are injured in fires. Many of these deaths and injuries result from failed emergency escape attempts.

In our continuing series about fire safety, we will focus on the best practices for making sure evacuation routes are plentiful, accessible and memorable.

PLENTIFUL:

Multiple Routes

One surefire way to get trapped by flames is to depend solely on one evacuation route. When fire strikes, if the escape is blocked by fire or smoke, you will need another way out. So make sure all of your property evacuation plans allow for more than one means of escape.

Up to Code

  • See to it that your properties are up to code regarding building evacuation. For older properties, fire escapes should remain in good working condition.
  • According to the National Fire Protection Association, fire escape stairs should be made from steel or other approved non-combustible material.
  • Stairs should be designed to support the dead load of the stair system plus a live load of at least 100 pounds per square foot.
  • Since exterior fire escape stairs are not permitted on newer buildings, make sure interior staircases are easily accessible and clearly marked. If you live or work in a low-rise structure (1-3 stories), consider portable fire escape ladders as a secondary means of escape.

ACCESSIBLE:

Accommodate Individuals with Disabilities

  • While many newer buildings are constructed as “accessible” to allow people with disabilities barrier-free access, it is important to make sure that your evacuation training practices evacuating people with disabilities to ensure everyone knows what to do during emergencies.
  • Clients of the RJ Westmore Training System have access to helpful evacuation resources including a Guide for Emergency Evacuation Planning Guide for People with Disabilities. The guide includes a Personal Emergency Evacuation Planning Checklist as well as information about building evacuation plans for people with mobility, visual, hearing, speech and cognitive impairments. Provide Ample Egress
  • This is an important consideration not only during construction but on a regular basis. Tenants can unintentionally block passageways with boxes or overflow from their suites. So take steps to constantly monitor escape routes.

MEMORABLE:

Drill

  • They say practice makes perfect. This is especially true when it comes to emergency evacuations. • Review escape routes frequently.
  • Practice not only in the middle of the day in full sun but also at night, to train tenants how to evacuate under cover of darkness.

Post

  • Make sure that evacuation routes are clearly marked so locations become second nature.

For more tips about conducting fire drills, see our recent post, Practice Makes Safety. Visit us again next week for the next post in our series about fire safety and prevention. When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives. For the latest emergency management training for property owners and managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Posted in Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Evacuations, Fire Life Safety Training, Fire Safety, Uncategorized

Storing Flammable Materials

Be careful when storing flammable materials.

In our continuing series about fire safety and prevention, this week’s post will look at the ways that you can mitigate the risk of fire by adopting best practices for storing flammable materials. Since flammable liquid can be ignited even without a spark, this information is particularly important for property owners who lease commercial buildings.

Fumes from containers that are not properly sealed can be carried on air currents to the flame of a water heater or the pilot light on a stove. The slightest spark can start a devastating fire; so proper handling and use as well as proper storage of volatile materials are essential. This is normally where I would make a “volatile materials” joke, but I’ll let it pass…

Guesswork isn’t necessary for the proper usage and storage of flammable materials.  Organizations such as OSHA and NFPA have produced and refined various guidelines that, when followed, greatly reduce the risk of fire. Strict adherence can save lives.

The following measures will help prevent accidents (Laying down newspapers won’t help with this kind of accident.):

  • Make sure that the right types of fire extinguishers are available to combat potential fires. The NFPA recommends special “fast flow” extinguishers for locations that have pressurized flammable liquids.
  • Prevent arson by making sure that all flammable materials are stored in a locked area with access given to a limited number of employees. I keep the keys to my doghouse as secure as the “nuclear football.” Nobody gets in without my permission.
  • All outside contractors or janitorial staff should be aware of the location of hazardous materials and should be instructed to stay away from dangerous areas.
  • Install sufficient ventilation systems that move vapors away from your building to a proper outside area.

Flammables Storage Guidelines:

  • The NFPA has guidelines on classifying different flammables based on their “flash points” – the temperature at which the material is at risk of combustion. (I learned the station firefighters’ flash point the other day when I chewed on the legs of the dining room table.) Make sure tenants know the proper classification for their chemicals, from acetaldehyde to naphthalene. RJWestmore clients have access to “How to Read a Fire Diamond” within the Resources section of their online training program.

    RJ Westmore, Inc. cilents have access to lots of valuable information.
  • Utilize the proper safety cans for storing flammable liquids. These cans do not allow the escape of flammable vapors and are designed to release internal pressure. They should be sturdy enough to resist crushing or punctures. I would love to put my lamb & rice meal in one of these containers to keep it super fresh!
  • Incompatible chemicals and oxidizers should be kept away from other reactive materials to prevent unintentional mixing. If two chemicals are like cats and dogs, don’t put them on the same shelf!
  • Install specially designed storage cabinets that keep a lid on the internal temperature to prevent the start and spread of fire.

With any safety issue, the key is knowledge and preparation. Tenants who work with flammable materials on a regular basis are probably well aware of any special considerations that should be taken regarding the storage and disposal of unstable materials. But, as a building owner or property manager, there is no harm in making sure that your tenants follow all safety guidelines.

Visit us again next week for the third blog post in our series about fire safety and prevention.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore, Inc. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Posted in Building Evacuation, Disaster Preparedness, Emergency Evacuations, Uncategorized

Evacuation Elevators Aid in Rescue Efforts

Elevators can be used for safe emergency escape.

They go up. They go down. They go up. They go down. We aren’t talking about yo-yos or those pesky squirrels. Today’s topic is elevators. A vital part of your building that is often taken for granted; elevators have amazing durability and safety records. Folks have even created lighthearted lists of “elevator etiquette.” Unfortunately one of these etiquette rules is likely entitled, “Don’t bring Fido onboard.” A new type of elevator for high-rise buildings transforms them from people- and equipment-movers to potentially life-saving machines.

A comprehensive study conducted on evacuation methods after the September 11 attacks showed that thousands of lives were spared by tenants’ usage of elevators as methods of evacuation. This conclusion, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom, has prompted the International Code Council to recommend code changes that will require evacuation elevators for buildings that are 420 feet and higher.

Benefits of Evacuation Elevators:

  • Tenants can simply exit the building more quickly by using a combination of elevators and stairwells, which greatly reduces the risk of personal injury.
  • Tenants with limited mobility do not need to be carried down flights of stairs, which speeds evacuation traffic flow for everyone. Moreover, anyone with a seeing-eye dog will be able to get out fast!
  • Firefighters can use elevators to quickly access higher-floor fires, allowing them time to prevent fires from spreading.

Issues for Building Management to Consider:

  • Evacuation elevators should be clearly delineated from normal transport or freight elevators by clear signage and through evacuation training.
  • Elevators are only designed to be used before what is known as “Phase 1,” which is the point when smoke or other danger has been detected and elevators are called back to either the ground or other landing floor.
  • The NFPA Life Safety Code has been changed to reflect evacuation elevator usage, and includes guidelines on elevator location, lobby size and restricting sprinklers from elevator machine rooms.
  • A key design feature of evacuation elevators is their ability to keep out smoke and water. Smoke is only good when used as a flavor for rawhide bones, not in an elevator! Building owners should carefully review all applicable codes before beginning construction.
  • Owners and facility managers will have to work hard to convince tenants that using the elevators is safe, in spite of a lifetime of warnings to “only use the stairs.”

For building owners with high-rise properties, the addition of evacuation elevators could add yet another layer to tenant safety and building protection strategies. The installation and usage of these elevators should follow strict fire and engineering codes and be thoroughly tested by the appropriate agencies before being put into service. I tried to fashion a pulley elevator in my two-story doghouse. Let’s just say it was not a success.

Check out our blog next week, which will be the first in a series about fire safety and prevention – which are, of course, my favorite topics!

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact RJ Westmore. Our new Version 2.0 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Posted in Building Evacuation, Disaster Preparedness, Earthquakes, Emergency Evacuations, Uncategorized, Version 2.0

Evacuation Planning Vital to Tenant Safety

Do you know where emergency exits are located in your building?

We talk a lot about emergency planning and disasters. Today, we’re discussing the importance of keeping people safe by making sure they can get out of buildings quickly in case of emergencies.

It’s human nature to panic when disaster strikes. The result can be confusion, indecision and failure to react quickly. If, on the other hand, written procedures are followed, groups understand safety procedures and individuals are properly trained to take charge of the situation, evacuation can be swift, smooth and safe.

Let’s take a look at the necessary steps to ensure quick and thorough building evacuations:

  • The first step is to consider the type of emergency situation. For me, a big emergency would be to run low on pig ears. But that doesn’t warrant an evacuation.
    • In cases of fire, the primary objective is to clear the entire building as quickly as possible.
    • For tornadoes, a safer option might be to instruct people to congregate in a large room located on the first floor instead of meeting outside. As always, proper preparation and written procedures are essential.
    • Buying plenty of pig ears is always important.
    • Ensure there is a clear chain of command. At the dog park, we do this well. For non-canine emergencies, employees and tenants need to be willing to take direction from the people who are in charge and feel confident that building management has control of any and every situation.
    • Floor Wardens need to take charge and understand their responsibilities:
      • Know the proper evacuation routes and internal and external refuge areas.
      • Note any building occupants who need special assistance and assign someone to assist them.
      • Familiarize residents and employees with the location of alarm pull stations and (if they are properly trained how to use them), fire extinguishers.
      • Instruct employees not to use elevators during emergencies unless instructed to do so by emergency personnel.
      • Evacuate any pets that are in the building. Believe me. We don’t want to be left behind.
      • Designate which tenants or employees should shut off gas lines or other equipment. Advise them to fulfill these duties only if absolutely necessary.
      • Building occupants should be given up-to-date evacuation maps, along with safety handbooks.
      • Stairwells and hallways should be kept free of boxes and other impediments, including rawhide bones. Routinely investigate these areas and work with building occupants to determine if additional storage space is necessary so hallways are clear of clutter, to ensure easy emergency exit.
      • Pay special attention to signage. Do a walkthrough of the evacuation route with your entire safety team. Is the escape route clear? If the power is out, will back-up lights and clearly marked egress signs be visible?
      • Establish a secondary meeting area in case the designated space is not usable. In major disasters, the primary exterior safe refuge area (located at least 300 feet from the building) area(s) may be compromised. So plans should be made for a secondary external safe refuge area.

When disaster strikes, pre-planning, training and clear decisive action can help save human and K9 lives. For the latest, most effective, building-specific e-based emergency management training for your building, contact RJ Westmore. Our new Version 2.0 training system offers the best in emergency training, free color aerial photograph safe refuge evacuation maps and full automated and integrated features that make training 100% of your occupants or employees both realistic and cost effective.  Visit RJWestmore.com for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

Posted in Building Evacuation, Disaster Preparedness, Earthquakes, Emergency Evacuations, Fire Safety, Fires

Is Your Pack Prepared?

Family Preparedness is Critical for Any Pack

Planning for an emergency is a project for every family member. Get your pups or children involved in preparedness to help them understand how important it is to be prepared and encourage them to remain calm under stress. Emergencies could happen when you are away and the rest of your pack is at home. So be sure the babysitter knows your emergency plans, too.

Earthquakes. Floods. Fire. Not fun things to talk about. But, if one of these emergencies strike, will your family be prepared?

The first step is to figure out what types of events might occur. Fire happens no matter where you live. Working at the firehouse, I know this all too well. Earthquakes are more regional; but remember, earthquakes have hit in some unexpected places. Floods are more common in some areas than others. So, if your home or doghouse is located in a floodplain, be sure you establish emergency plans to share with your relatives and neighbors. Sharing the information with cats is optional.

So how exactly can you get your kids involved?

  • Do a home hazard scavenger hunt to teach our brood about dangerous objects. Have them check every large piece of furniture to make sure everything is secured to a wall. What about paintings and other loose items? Imagine an earthquake. What could, potentially happen to prized possessions like bones or food bowls?
  • Make an emergency kit! FEMA has a great online matching game that helps kids picture the key contents of emergency kit. And don’t forget flashlights and canned goods. Alpo and Pedigree are my personal favorites.
  • After you put together your kit, it is time to plan! Get your kids involved. And, if you have hands instead of paws, write out the plan. Also, consider including some simple designs, clip art or pictures to make it easy for younger kids to understand.

Here are some key points to cover:

  • Notes  about each family member
  • Phone numbers. Don’t forget to include the names of folks who live far away in case the emergency knocks out local communications. Put copies of photos in the plan, too, so they can be easily distributed if anyone goes missing.
  • Make sure everyone understands escape routes and the group meeting area.
  • Large families can get older kids to watch over the younger ones
  • Ready.gov has a good emergency plan template

After a disaster, you will need to make sure all of your family members are present and accounted for. Then, its contact agencies such as your local Red Cross and to keep watch on alerts from FEMA

With proper planning, you can help make sure your family stays safe in if and when a real emergency strikes. The most important thing is to make sure everyone is involved. BE SAFE.