Practice emergency employee drills for workplace safety

We all remember the multiple school fire drills when we were younger—the sounding alarm, the rank and file, and the all-important meeting place. Once we enter the workplace, however, our employers may not always follow these best practices when it comes to keeping us safe. Yet, in this current day and age, workplace safety and emergency employee drills are arguably more critical than ever.


Form a team and a plan

Before you start practicing your emergency employee drills, it's important to put together an internal Safety or Emergency Response Team. Reviewing best practices from the New York City Fire Department on mandatory Emergency Action Plans can be a good place to start.1 Leading the Emergency Action Plan (EAP) is the Director, who would ideally receive certified training from your local fire department. An EAP should also be shared with law enforcement so that they are aware of where your evacuation area will be in the event of an emergency.

Another excellent resource to consult is the FBI's Guide For Businesses to Develop Emergency Operations Plans.2 This guide provides comprehensive checklists and guidelines to be included in your drills, as well as questions to ask when developing your plan and training.

Fire and evacuation drills

Fire drills fall under general building evacuation drills. It's important to run through who will be designated to alert the fire department, building management and employees, as well as who will guide employees out of the building to ensure everyone is evacuated. It's also essential to look at evacuation routes and corresponding backup routes to accommodate the elderly or those with disabilities.

Since fire drills are the most common and familiar of all workplace emergencies, they may not be taken seriously. This could be due to the fact that these drills are announced ahead of time in an effort to avoid scaring employees and allowing them to plan around the disruption to their schedules. There is a balance to be struck between workplace safety, productivity and disruptions to business, and announcing these drills may not fall under best practices.

Finally, remember to discuss the purpose of certain security protocols and make changes to them as required. Employees should know how to respond to adjustments to standard evacuation procedures if problems arise. For example, what do you do if your designated fire exit stairwell has smoke in it? Time evacuations and the way that employees respond, and change your plan as needed.


The active shooter scenario

Sadly, active shooter drills are increasingly important to consider in the workplace and practicing workplace safety drills for active shooter scenarios can and do save lives.

In drilling for Active Shooter events, it is important that employees are able to work through a simple framework and respond dynamically to any threat. Staying in place may not always be the best option. The Department of Homeland Security has an Active Shooter Workshop that you and your employees can use.3 Additionally, they've prepared a guide and template that you can work through for planning purposes.4

Both the FBI and Homeland Security also have videos available that can show you the steps to take in response to an active shooter, including the Run, Hide, Fight campaign.5


Natural disasters and your business

In addition to the types of drills noted above, Mother Nature can also wreak havoc on your building or business. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma most recently rocked the southern United States while Sandy devastated the Eastern seaboard in 2012.6,7 Extreme weather events can cause power outages, flooding, and a number of other risks and hazards to your employees. In these types of situations, it's important to consider different action plans and emergency employee drills for workplace safety. For example, in a natural disaster, depending on the situation, it may be safer to stay in a building instead of exiting it.

According to IFMA, 43 percent of businesses that close their doors following a natural disaster never re-open.8 Training for business continuity—that is, keeping businesses running during these types of natural disasters—can involve a smaller group of individuals in your office, including EAP staff. Information from the Department of Homeland Security breaks down the types of training that each member should have.9

Ensure that your business and, most importantly, your employees are safe and sound in any emergency event with the best practices outlined above.

1. "Office Building Emergency Action Plans." New York City Fire Department. April 6, 2005. Accessed on June 2, 2018.
2. "Developing Emergency Operations Plans: a Guide for Businesses." FBI. March 2018. Accessed June 2, 2018.
3. "Active Shooter Workshop Participant." Department of Homeland Security. Accessed June 2, 2018.
4. "Active Shooter Emergency Action Plan Guide and Template." Department of Homeland Security. Accessed June 2, 2018.
5. "Options for Consideration Active Shooter Training Video." Department of Homeland Security. August 1, 2017. Accessed June 2, 2018.
6. Fritz, Angela. "Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate Were So Destructive, Their Names Have Been Retired." The Washington Post. April 12, 2018. Accessed June 2, 2018.
7. Clark Estes, Adam, et al. "Hurricane Sandy Hits the East Coast." The Atlantic. October 30, 2012. Accessed June 2, 2018.
8. "Training." Department of Homeland Security. Accessed June 2, 2018.
9. "IFMA Conference Offers Timely Expertise on Emergency Preparedness and Business Continuity." IFMA. October 2, 2017. Accessed June 2, 2018.'s-new-at-ifma/what's-new-at-ifma-details/2017/10/02/ifma-conference-offers-timely-expertise-on-emergency-preparedness-and-business-continuity