Your evacuation plan

Managing the response to a fire alarm sounding is just as important as preventing a fire or false alarm in the first place.

It has been common practice for most buildings to have a simple evacuation plan – in the event of a fire alarm all occupants should immediately leave the building to a place of safety and someone should call the Fire & Rescue Service (FRS) to investigate.

Some buildings have a link to an Alarm Receiving Centre (ARC), and the instruction to the ARC is to call the FRS on receipt of a fire signal from the protected premises.

The detail of the on-site fire response and evacuation plan should be the subject of a risk assessment. In the light of the fact that many FRS's are only responding to confirmed fires, it is now necessary for local management to consider all relevant options.

The following list* is not exhaustive, but is intended to help management consider the most appropriate options:

  • By law the Responsible Person of the premises must ensure there are suitable procedures in place for when the alarm goes off. This includes trained, designated people who can safely investigate the cause of the fire alarm and escalate or downgrade the situation as required
  • The first action will normally be to evacuate people to a safe place, unless your risk assessment and fire plan says otherwise
  • Fire alarm systems indicate alarm signals by ‘zone’ an area small enough to be to be rapidly searched. Some systems will even specify the exact location of the device that has operated.
  • To satisfy the need to confirm that a fire signal is valid, designated staff members (or fire wardens) should be trained to safely investigate the cause of an alarm. They need to be competent to ensure there is no fire present and declare the premises safe to re-enter.
  • It may be possible to use on-site security staff or a security company to carry out the investigation.
  • If the risk is low - due to the design and use of the building - it may be appropriate to delay the alarm and evacuation for a few minutes whilst an initial investigation is carried out.
  • In some cases it may be appropriate for all staff to be put on alert in the event of an alarm during the first level of investigation.
  • If the building has higher risks it may be necessary to either fully or at least partially evacuate the building while an investigation is being carried out.
  • Where buildings are unmanned, or during out of hours, it may be possible to use technology to confirm the fire signal sent via an ARC to the FRS. i.e. information to confirm that the premises are unoccupied or that there has been a coincident detection of fire.
  • Where a fire is confirmed or there is a genuine doubt, the emergency escalation procedures for the premises should be followed. This would usually be calling the fire service.
  • Many premises design a filtering system or short time delay before the full alarm goes off. This gives fire wardens time to search the premises and either confirm a false alarm or a fire prior to a full evacuation. When a system is configured to provide a time delay activation of a second device (such as a smoke detector or manual break glass call point) will usually trigger the system into full alarm status.
  • When you have a false alarm the cause should be investigated by someone with the appropriate knowledge of the system and building fire safety measures. You then need to take measures to prevent it happening again. These measures should be justified within a fire risk assessment and continually monitored to ensure the effectiveness of the changes. If in doubt ask a competent person such as a fire safety consultant.

* This list has been reproduced with the permission of Kent FRS from their Guide to Automated Fire Alarms