How to be prepared to evacuate your building at work

Emergencies at work are never convenient. You can be sitting at your desk, sipping your morning cup of coffee one moment, and the next moment there’s a siren blaring and you’re wracking your head for the safety drills you didn’t pay attention to for how to evacuate your building.

You can’t predict when an emergency can strike, but you can prepare how you’ll react to it so you won’t be caught off guard. Here’s how:

1) Create and know the plan

Your employer should have an evacuation plan of the building that they run drills for, a plan that you can easily access if you forget the established protocol. To prevent chaos in an already chaotic moment, everyone needs to know exactly what to do and where to go.

Although not every employer is required to have an emergency action, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that at the very minimum, every employer should have a preferred protocol for reporting emergencies like fires, a procedure on how to carry out those protocols, a plan on how you will communicate emergency information, a backup plan if your initial communication strategy fails, and evacuation route assignments like floor plans or designated meeting areas.

OSHA believes the best evacuation plans include employee input. That makes sense. When people are part of the planning process, they take ownership of the idea and are more likely to follow it. “When you include your employees in your planning, encourage them to offer suggestions about potential hazards, worst-case scenarios, and proper emergency responses. After you develop the plan, review it with your employees to make sure everyone knows what to do before, during and after an emergency,” OSHA recommends.

2) Keep track of your belongings

Speed and efficiency are your top priorities for evacuating. You don’t want to be held up with your evacuation because you forgot where you put your wallet carrying your identification, or are backing up an important document from your computer. To speed your exit along, keep your important supplies on you or near your work station in something you can easily grab and carry. That means paring what you need down to essentials that will get you safely out of the building.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends creating a workplace emergency kit that can include items like a flashlight, extra shoes for walking and food and water, or whatever you would consider a necessity. If you’re working on sensitive information or a lengthy project, it’s also a good habit to back up your files regularly.

3) When in doubt, ask for more information

Unfortunately by the time an emergency like a fire strikes, it’s too late to ask questions. That’s why the best way to prepare for an emergency is to ask many questions beforehand. Ask your human resources department about different scenarios. What if the microwave catches fire? What if there’s an active shooter on the premises? OSHA recommends designating certain employees to be key point people to communicate this information.

Employers can also prepare employees by spreading the knowledge around and empowering them with first aid training, instructions on how to a operate fire extinguisher, self-defense tactics, and other training, so that they can have the knowledge necessary to save themselves.