Amongst the many roles of the facilities manager, perhaps one of the most important, yet most understated, is to ensure users of their site and visitors remain safe in the case of an unexpected emergency, as David Ward of Ward Security explains.

An emergency can take many forms, from fires to terrorist incidents, and these will become even more of a challenge in areas where there are many visitors, such as shopping centres or tourist sites. When a major incident occurs it is vital that people are effectively evacuated and where possible subsequently accounted for. The challenge is to have procedures in to enable this that are robust enough to work when panic is rife and people are hard to control and therefore unpredictable.

Whatever the location, it is important to periodically audit your evacuation and dispersal procedures to ensure they are still fit for purpose. Time and situations change. Businesses grow and new occupants arrive. Sites evolve and their usage changes.

Site owners and managers need to check their procedures periodically and ask are they suitable for the site as it is now. Have the procedures become outdated as the site and its usage has evolved? Is signage still in place and clear? Are staff properly briefed about procedures, including new staff? Updating procedures could literally be the difference between life and death.

The issue of assembly of evacuated persons should also be looked at as part of this audit. In the case of the terrorist threat (which is something that should always be taken seriously), the terrorist tactics have evolves to include the use of vehicles as weapons, so there is a risk that large groups of evacuated and assembled people could themselves provide a target.

It is worth remembering that dispersal is preferable to the congregation of evacuated persons. Not only is this a safer strategy, it is also more realistic in inner city areas or sites where space is limited.

Facilities managers, site owners, and indeed business owners should already be investigating how technology can be included into their evacuation and dispersal plans. Technology platforms such as the Everbridge critical communications and enterprise safety software are already being used by police forces and the Cross-sector Safety and Security Communications initiative. With a smartphone in every pocket there is a great opportunity to use the technology to great effect and to ensure safety of site users. There’s no reason why technology should not become integral to evacuation and dispersal, even functioning as a mobile guide to where people need to go in the event of an incident and perhaps as a way of conducting a ‘head count’.

However, the most important thing is the initial audit of you evacuation and dispersal plans. Lives depend on it.