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Business Evacuation Plans: How to Be Prepared During an Emergency at Work

October 11, 2017

Business evacuation plans aren't something to put off for another day. Make a plan now to ensure the safety of everyone.

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For most people, going to work isn't something that usually includes an evacuation plan. We head to the store or the restaurant or the office or the job site and get on with our day. You may have old business evacuation plans that indicate exits in case of a fire, but beyond that, you haven't thought much about it.

Reality, however, is rarely as simple as a diagram that leads you to the nearest exit. And some evacuations require you to leave more than just your business; they could require you to leave the area or even the state.

As our world has changed, though, business evacuation plans haven't always evolved to keep up. Gone are the days of practicing a fire drill twice a year. Fire drills are important, but with the possibility of anything from weather-related emergencies to active shooters to a gas leak, your evacuation plan needs to expand.

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How to Improve Your Business Evacuation Plans and Keep Everyone Safe

Different emergencies call for different plans. You can't predict emergency situations, but you can plan for them and practice your response. Because there is no standard business set up, these evacuation plans are guidelines and not specific to your situation. A ground floor business with multiple windows and doors may respond differently to a fire than a fifth floor business with two escape routes. The principles, however, are the same.

The California Department of Public Healthrecommends the following protocols for any evacuation:

  • A clear chain of command for an evacuation order.
  • Specific routes and exits.
  • Specific procedures for helping visitors or employees who need assistance.
  • A way to account for all employees.
  • Designate who, if anyone, will remain to shut down critical equipment.

In addition to those procedures, there are a few more steps you can take to help keep communication open:
  • Have a messaging system in place so you can update all employees about an emergency via text or phone call. This is also a nice benefit to handle smaller events like snow days.
  • Have a dedicated contact number and outgoing message where employees and families can call for information in the event of an emergency.


1. Fire evacuation plan
Every fire evacuation plan should include at least two exit routes. Those routes should remain clear at all times, and any doors should be easily opened.

Choose a meeting place and take a head count. In a larger company, a manager or supervisor can perform this task as it's impossible for any one person to account for hundreds of employees.

If for some reason you cannot evacuate, the Tufts University Office of Emergency Management recommends getting as far away as possible from the fire and closing doors to keep flames and smoke out. Place wet towels or clothing under the door to prevent smoke from entering the room. Call 911 to report your location.


2. Active shooter evacuation plan
An active shooter situation is a nightmare for anyone, and the protocol for action is largely dependent upon the details. According to the University of Miami Office of Emergency Management, you have three options: run, hide, or fight.

If it is safe to do so, your first option is to escape.

  • Have an escape route and plan in mind.
  • Evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow.
  • Leave your belongings behind.
  • Help others evacuate, if possible.
  • Prevent individuals from entering an area where the active shooter may be.
  • Keep your hands visible.
  • Follow the instructions of any police officers.
  • Do not attempt to move wounded people.


If you can't evacuate, your next option is to hide, preferably in a space that is out of view and where you can lock an intruder out. Silence your phone and remain quiet. As a last resort, "and only when your life is in imminent danger," attack the intruder. Throw objects at them, yell, and fight. When police arrive, remember that they don't know who the shooter is. Get on the ground, keep your hands visible, and follow instructions.


3. Advanced warning evacuations
Not every emergency comes without warning. Blizzards, wildfires, hurricanes, and some floods are among the disasters that offer lead time on possible evacuations. Even if you don't live in an area prone to these conditions, business evacuation plans should include a component for these emergencies as you never know when you might need to apply them.

The Jefferson Parish Louisiana Department of Emergency Management offers these tips for evacuating a business:

  • Ensure your data is secure on backup files.
  • Notify vendors and clients that your business may be inaccessible for a period.
  • Close down and give your employees time to make arrangements for protecting their homes and arranging their own evacuations.
  • Protect your employees and offer shelter and supplies to employees and their families if you are able.
  • Secure important documents and files.
  • Turn off the electricity, water, and gas if you are able.
  • Lock your business.
  • Contact local officials before returning to your business.


Any comprehensive business evacuation plans also need to account for what happens after an emergency. Again, planning early and reviewing your plan regularly is the best way to ensure the safety of your employees and the viability of your business.


It's also a good idea to check your business insurance and make sure your plan is up to date. Call [ms-website-name] today to verify your coverage and find out what, if any, adjustments you need to make before disaster strikes.