When an emergency happens, it’s important to know what to do, who to call and where to go. Whether it’s a fire, toxic gases or physical violence, being prepared with the correct procedures and safety systems in place can help save lives.

When should you evacuate a building?

You should evacuate a building when you hear a fire alarm or are directed to do so by fire wardens, security personnel or first responders.

Evacuations may be required in situations such as:

  • Fire and smoke
  • Toxic gases
  • Physical violence
  • Bomb threat
  • Natural disaster

It is important that all staff and residents of a building understand the emergency evacuation procedures and their responsibilities if an emergency occurs. 

How to evacuate a building (step-by-step)

Familiarise yourself with the evacuation plan of any building you spend regular time in, whether that’s a workplace, school or residential building.

If you are a building owner or manager, ensure that the occupants are aware of the evacuation procedure and the location of the nearest exits. Evacuation trial runs are important for making sure people know what to do in an emergency.

Step 1. Assess the situation

If it is safe to do so, try and find out why you are evacuating the building. This may help you make better decisions as you evacuate. 

If you are the first one to notice a risk that calls for evacuation, you should sound the alarm and notify others. Call 000 for emergency help.

Provide assistance to those who need it and take steps to reduce the danger if it is safe to do so. That may include using a fire extinguisher or turning off the power. 

Step 2. Make your way to the nearest exit

Follow the signage to the nearest exits as quickly and calmly as possible. Don’t try to gather your belongings as the emergency could be life threatening. Don’t use an elevator.

In fire emergencies, look for smoke and use the back of your hand to feel if a door is hot before opening it. If it is hot, go another way. Try to close doors behind you as you leave.

If the exits are blocked, look for alternative routes of escape, for example through a window. 

If you are trapped inside a room, try to get the attention of first responders through a window if safe to do so. For example, hang a sheet out the window to indicate you are there.

Step 3. Meet at the designated assembly point

Put a safe distance between you and the building. If there is a designated meeting point, head to it so that others know you are safe.

Tell first responders if you notice someone is missing or if there were any animals or sensitive information left in the building.

Step 4. Wait for instructions from first responders

Do not leave the evacuation assembly point until you receive directions from first responders to do so. They may need to talk to you about the situation so they can handle it in the best way.

Creating an evacuation plan

Every workplace is required to have an evacuation procedure which outlines what steps should be taken in case of an emergency. 

Keep the following things in mind when designing an evacuation plan:

Involve staff in the process

Staff members should be consulted when developing an evacuation plan as people will know best what their individual needs are. People are more likely to be invested in a procedure when they have been included in the planning.

Training key personnel

Competent people should be assigned responsibilities in case of an emergency. For example, fire wardens are responsible for sounding an alarm, directing people towards emergency exits and reducing the danger if safe to do so. 

Adequate training should be provided so that these key personnel know what to do in an emergency. 

Personal emergency evacuation plans

Any person that will require assistance evacuating the building should have a personal emergency evacuation plan in place. 

Fire wardens and other designated personnel should be aware of the personal evacuation plans and understand what assistance is needed.

Evacuation drills

Evacuation drills should be carried out regularly to ensure staff are familiar with the procedure. This includes practicing evacuating people with disabilities. When people are more familiar with the procedure, outcomes are improved.

Displaying the emergency procedure

Evacuation procedures should be clearly displayed in appropriate locations around the building. They should include a map which clearly shows the exits and the present location. 

Complying with building regulations

In Australia there are strict regulations around fire safety and emergency warning systems for commercial and residential buildings. If you are a building owner, business owner or manager, you must ensure the right systems are in place. Fines can be given for non-compliance.

Regulations may include things like:

  • Having the correct fire resistance levels for steel doors, fire doors and windows.
  • Ensuring alarm systems are in working order.
  • Being equipped with the right fire extinguishers, first aid kits and other relevant safety measures.
  • Conducting regular testing and maintenance on all safety systems.

Being prepared for emergencies can save lives

It is crucial to understand the risks in your workplace or home and be prepared for emergencies. Knowing what to do when an emergency happens can help save lives and minimise damage. For specific safety and evacuation advice for your home or workplace, it’s best to consult a professional.