The Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) defines a workplace emergency as: “An unforeseen situation that threatens your employees, customers, or the public; disrupts or shuts down your operations; or causes physical or environmental damage.”
Emergencies can be natural or manmade and may include the following: fire; explosions; chemical spills; toxic gas releases; radiological accidents; floods; hurricanes; tornadoes; civil disturbances; or workplace violence resulting in bodily harm and trauma.
A disorganized evacuation may result in confusion, injury, property damage, and even death. It is important to remember when developing or reviewing your emergency action plan that it includes specific evacuation procedures, evacuation routes and exits, procedures for assisting people with disabilities, and safe refuge areas for ease of accountability.
The facility manger of your building is required to conduct an annual fire evacuation drill (more often if there is a hazardous process occurring in your workplace) as outlined in Edwards Air Force Base Instruction 32-111, the Edwards AFB Fire Prevention and Protection Program.
If you haven’t recently practiced an evacuation exercise, or what actions to take during an “unforeseen event”; there is no time like the present. When the unimaginable happens, you and your co-workers will be prepared to avoid tragedy. One tragic example where the occupants were ill prepared to evacuate during an emergency event was the World Trade Center bombing of 1993. On Feb. 26, 1993, a truck filled with 1,500 pounds of explosive was detonated in the underground garage. At the time, there was no plan in place on how to evacuate the 50,000 people that worked in these facilities. Six people lost their lives during this attack, and more than one thousand were injured. Many injuries that were experienced during this incident were a result of the panic that spread as the occupants tried to evacuate the facility.
In the wake of the 1993 bombing attack, and the chaotic evacuation which took place that day, the World Trade Center and many of the tenants began to seriously address the lack of emergency procedures. Not only did the tenants repair the damage from the attack, but they made the facility a safer place to work. Elevators and electrical systems were upgraded, along with Life Safety upgrades such as battery-operated emergency lights and luminescent paint in the stairwells. Emergency command centers were established as well.
In 2000, the WTC would reach its highest occupancy rate of all time. Despite the devastating loss of more than 2,750 people, the lessons learned from the 1993 attack played a significant role in evacuating the WTC, when two jets flew into the complex on Sep. 11, 2001, completely destroying both towers, casualties in the South Tower were significantly reduced by some occupants deciding to start evacuating as soon as the North Tower was struck. The 9/11 Commission notes that evacuation below the impact zones was largely a success, allowing most occupants to safely evacuate before the collapse of the WTC. The South Tower saw fewer than half of the number killed than in the North Tower. Without an evacuation plan in place and the practices that had been conducted the number of lives lost, in all probability, would have been much higher.
If you need help with your plan or have any concerns, please contact the EAFB Fire Protection Division’s Technical Service Section at (661) 277-3124, 3643 or 0480.