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17 January 2019
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Musings on emergency procedures

7 January 2013

For much of my working life before getting involved in facilities management the fire drill was the province of HR, or Personnel as we used to call them and at more than one location there was a delight in picking a wet day for the practice.

Because they always had the drills in the same weeks every year, and always in the gap between morning tea break and lunch, the old sweats could usually work out when the drill would be from the weather forecast. Someone based near HR would be watching for the tell-tale signs of activity.

As soon as HR were seen to be assembling with clip boards, macs and brollies the word would go around and people would be ready for the bell; after all, the quicker they were out the quicker they could be back in again, but whilst some very good evacuation times (as I would later come to know) were being recorded HR would always moan drainishly about everyone having apparently stopped to put their coats on before leaving the building; somehow it never occurred to them that we were ready and waiting for the bell.

Once such practices were my problem I did away with the schedule and we did them when we felt like it, albeit being careful to avoid moments that would give someone an operational problem, and we always picked a decent day.

As we started to get more electrical kit around the office the advent of an alarm going off became more of an issue and these were not always false alarms. One such incident saw us out in the car park for an hour after lunch and I was berated by a first line manager; “Why have you done this now and not at the proper time?” she demanded, adding “these things should always be in the late morning”. I explained that this was a real fire, but she was unmoved; “Why would you want to start a real fire? We just need to have our regular practice and I can show you when that should be; I have the weeks marked on my calendar!”

You can’t fight such thinking with logic though, and it is futile to try as was demonstrated in another real alarm evacuation. By this time we had installed a drop-in zone at the back of the reception area and on this day two visitors were making use of it. The bells rang and out we went with me being just one of the punters as my team were more than capable of managing things.

With checks done and the sound of two-tone horns just audible in the distance it was pointed out that our two drop-in zone guests were still in reception. The issue of not going back into the building notwithstanding I didn’t want the grief we would get from the fire officer and so I nipped over and called through the open door for them to come out. “We just need to finish this; we’re right by the door so if we see smoke we’ll be straight out” said one, smiling condescendingly at me.

My response was perhaps lacking in customer care principles, but had the desired effect and we were all clear of the building as the first fire engine pulled in. The guests were still unimpressed though, and even less so when they realised that they had left the keys to their car in the drop-in zone. I don’t know what the fireman said to the one who tried to go and retrieve them, but I suspect his words were stronger than mine.

John Bowen is an FM consultant

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