Down and Out in Record Time

By Glen Kitteringham, CPP

At 1:30 in the afternoon a fire-alarm pull station was activated on the 53rd floor of one of the towers at Petro-Canada Centre, a property that is among Canada’s largest commercial high-rise complexes. Five minutes later, as fire crews from the Calgary Fire Department headed to the site, the fire alarm system transmitted a message that everyone in the complex should evacuate.

More than 6,000 people immediately began evacuating from the two towers, the food courts, common areas, and five levels of underground parking. Within 50 minutes, most people were out and away from the complex. Responding fire crews helped escort building occupants who needed assistance.

Two hours after the alarm was triggered, everyone was back to work in the complex. This had only been a drill, conducted late last year to simulate a worst-case scenario; the goal was to train employees while also uncovering any flaws in the evacuation plan.

High-rise building managers are sometimes advised that fire drills need not entail full evacuations, but a complete test of a worst-case scenario is the only real way to ensure that the plan works and that tenants will know what to do in a true disaster, such as occurred on 9-11.

Conducting any evacuation drill requires considerable planning. Petro-Canada Centre’s evacuation exercise took weeks to devise, for example.

There are a number of considerations that must be taken into account when creating an evacuation plan, including the local rules pertaining to fire and evacuation drills, the need to coordinate with emergency services, the type of building being evacuated, and the buy-in of occupants. Security must also make sure that it has a good plan, with all the components addressed, that is ready to be tested in a drill. These include the establishment of roles and responsibilities and other key components, such as communications and evacuation points. Next, for the drill to be worthwhile, people must be properly trained. Lastly, it’s critical to conduct an assessment after the drill.



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