There are countless things that can go wrong when a fire threatens your employees and business – each with devastating consequences. As fires themselves are dangerous enough and the threat is often emersed with chaos and panic if your company is unprepared. The best way to prevent this from happening is to have both a detailed and rehearsed fire evacuation plan.

It’s estimated that up to 80,000 serious workplace fires occur every year in the United States, taking the lives of approximately 200 workers and injuring another 5,000. Providing your employees with the proper evacuation training will allow them to leave the office quickly in any chance of an emergency. Before doing anything, it’s a good idea to schedule a meeting with a local fire official to find out exactly which types of fire alarm and sprinkler systems city or county codes require!

When creating your fire evacuation plan, make sure it as detailed as possible and also keep in mind the special needs of individuals who have disabilities or don’t speak English. Here are 7 steps to improve your organizations fire evacuation plan:

1) Imagine various scenarios – where might fires break out? How and why would they start? The National Fire Association points out that a majority of fires have occurred in office properties that can be caused by cooking equipment, intentional acts or arson, and electrical malfunctions.
- Do you have a kitchen in your office? (since cooking fires is at the top of the list for office properties, create a list of “house rules” in place about microwaving and other office kitchen appliances.)
- Are you using portable space heaters or personal fridges?
- Do wildfires threaten your location each summer?

2) Establish roles and responsibilities: employees will look to their leaders for reassurance and guidance in panicked situations like a fire emerging, so it’s important to create a clear chain of command with backups that state who has the authority to order an evacuation. Here are some primary roles to consider:
- Chief fire warden: this employee will have the overall responsibility for a fire event including planning and preparation. This person will often ensure doors have been closed, check bathrooms, and perform a backup headcount at the safe location.
- Assistant fire warden: this person should utilize the mass alert system to alert employees, call the fire department and gather reports. If your organization uses an emergency communication system, make sure this person is a system admin.
- Route guides: this role is especially important because they ensure that routes are clear and evacuation is orderly/calm.
- Fire extinguishers: remember if you cannot bring a fire under control in 30 seconds – stop, close the door and escape safely! But it’s a good idea to have these handy.

3) Determine escape routes and nearest exits: clear signs should mark all the exit routes and fire escapes which should be kept clear of furniture or other objects that could possibly create issues. For larger offices, make multiple- maps of the floor plans and diagrams and post them. Make sure to direct your employees once they’re out of the building as well.

4) Create a communication plan: during a fire drill, the assistant fire warden, for example, should be calling the fire department and emergency responders as well as distribute information to employees, customers and the news media. Something to consider is having the ability to send notifications through email, phone, text and mobile app provides you with a way to reach as methods of communication.

5) Know your tools and inspect: be mindful that tools need to be updated/inspected periodically and also to remind the employees of the location of those tools in the office including fire alarms, alarm systems, emergency lighting, escape ladders and any megaphones, etc. In addition to those crucial fire protection supplies, you need to educate the employees on the utility of everyday office supplies in general.

6) Rehearse fire evacuation procedures: conducting regular procedures will give your employees understand through repetition and allow them to have a safer/calmer reaction if a fire did break out.

7) Follow-up & Reporting: your organizations leadership needs to be communicating along with tracking progress in real time. Surveys are an excellent way to get status updates from employees.