Down and Out in Record Time

By Glen Kitteringham, CPP


A considerable amount of preparation needs to go into training. There are a number of training mediums to choose from including PowerPoint presentations, life-safety videos, and fire-warden manuals. Training can be provided in person, placed online at the company Web site, delivered via lecture, or given through building familiarization tours. Whatever method a company decides to use, the information should be based on the company’s life-safety manual.

The training schedule is based on the size of the company. For example, I have worked with tenant companies ranging in size from 5 employees to 1,800. While training a small staff is easy, larger organizations must plan a training program. One large company had 300 fire wardens. To facilitate training, security set up rotating training schedules and held classes for 50 to 60 wardens at a time. Some companies may decide to hold training sessions for all employees and others might leave training up to department heads, but all floor wardens must receive comprehensive training.

Drill Day

On drill day, security should first evaluate whether the exercise can go forward. For example, one drill was cancelled because of a violent thunderstorm. Another company chose to postpone a drill because key personnel were missing. However, a cancellation decision should not be made lightly. If at all possible, the drill should go on because emergencies rarely happen in good weather when everyone is at work. These glitches can help the drill mimic a real crisis.

The drill should begin with a scenario that is tied to a specific location. For example, during the Petro-Canada drill, the author placed a cardboard box with faux flames coming out of it in a closet on the 53rd floor. Fire department personnel were told to find the emergency situation and respond accordingly.

During the rest of the drill, the response team followed its procedures as it would in the event of a real emergency. This effectively tested the communications equipment as well as the training of floor wardens and other volunteers.

There will inevitably be some uncooperative people. Individuals who don’t want to participate may not say anything until an evacuation exercise is underway. They may have what seems a valid reason for not participating. For example, one person in the Petro-Canada building had a medical condition that he did not wish to share with anyone. This condition precluded him from walking down the stairs but because he didn’t want anyone to know he was impaired, he simply refused to participate.

Each situation is unique and there are no hard and fast rules about how to respond, but in this case, security convinced the employee to come clean—noting that during a real emergency, he could be seriously injured or die. The fact that the drill uncovered this issue shows the value of such exercises.

In other cases, people refuse with no explanation. Security must make them understand that they are placing themselves and others, including building management staff and emergency services personnel, in danger with their lack of participation.

No matter the cause, all interactions with companies and individuals—especially in cases where there is a refusal to participate—should be properly documented. Having the local fire department on hand, especially on drill day, often helps ensure compliance.      


After the drill is completed, it is important to assess results. Getting feedback from participants as to what worked, what did not work, lessons learned, evacuation times, and obstacles overcome is vital to improving the program.

The assessment should be conducted immediately after the completion of the drill before everyone goes back to work. All key participants should be involved, including responding emergency services, and building evacuation staff. Key volunteers such as floor captains and wardens should also be consulted. Notes should be made and kept as a historical record and key issues should be implemented into program improvements.

Preparing for evacuations is a serious issue and all parties must be prepared to commit resources, the two most important being personnel and time. Security teams and building occupants must work together to achieve this critical goal. Lives depend on it. 

Glen Kitteringham, CPP, is director of security and life safety with Brookfield Properties in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He is the author of Security and Life Safety in the Commercial High-Rise (2006) published by ASIS International.



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