Open-access content Monday 23rd January 2012 — updated 2.38pm, Tuesday 5th May 2020
23 January 2011
Managing an emergency evacuation is something that every facilities manager should have begun to learn about from the start of their career - and continue to learn about for as long as they are in the profession.
I say continue to learn because although there is a core element to managing any emergency situation, every one that you handle will have nuances that will add to your repository of solutions. It's why there should always be a drains-up session afterwards to help you understand what went on and why.
While there will be a process in place for emergencies, it can be a dangerous trap if you try to be too specific because the reality is that there is so often something that you didn't expect, one of those nuances, that can see you having to improvise. But the biggest problem with process is that it can be what has led you into the disaster or caused you to misdiagnose the remedy. When something goes wrong, it's no good saying "that couldn't have happened" because it just has and it can be easy to lose sight of what you have to do, especially when the nature of the emergency is fast changing. That is where having a well-drilled team with a good, proven, communication system comes into its own.
The Costa Concordia disaster that has unfolded across the media is an interesting case for a FM to consider. Whatever the alleged failings of certain individuals among the crew, there was enough professionalism from the remainder and the rescue services to get a large amount of people to safety in difficult circumstances once the crucial decision had been made. It is getting the people out and away to safety that takes management. It needs calm authority and clear command to keep those that you are evacuating under control, for panic is something that you should fear. I blogged a few months back about my experience at my local supermarket where the fire alarms went off and employees were pushing through the shoppers shouting "Fire, get out". There was no sign of any effort by management to ensure a safe evacuation of the store, but fortunately there was no panic amid the shoppers.
People can behave badly when they think that they are in danger and you are channelling them through the bottle neck of the exit doors. "Women and children first" is nothing more than a chivalrous gesture and it has no legal standing, so if you are trying to get people out are you going to slow things down by trying to pull men out of the flow? However I might feel about such behaviour, my view is that you move people through as quickly as is safe to do so and make sure that you are getting them clear on the outside.
Is there anything that we as FMs can learn from the Concordia sinking? I hope that we can get past the hysterical journalism and think about what we would do. Trouble rarely comes at a convenient moment, so how are your routines for assembling your people in the right places; how well do they know what they need to do; how do your lines of communication work; what back-up plans do you have? Set some time aside and get your team together to work through these things. However good you think you are, there will be something that you can polish - and don't gloss over anything that may not be robust. Make it better - you won't get a second chance when the alarm sounds.
Read more of John Bowen's blogs at That Consultant Bloke
Other news for Thursday, 26 January 2012
Supreme Court next stop for FiT challenge?
NHS Property Services takes on health estate
Serco keeps military base contracts
SCS stays with Suffolk Coastal
FM World blog: Learning from disaster
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