You’re sitting at your desk, trying to look busy, when suddenly a siren blares. Oh no! That’s the alarm that signifies an approaching disaster! Once you remember what that particular alarm means, and it’s an earthquake, you duck under your desk, crossing your fingers and wishing you hadn’t spent the last hour wishing something exciting would happen.
Knowing to go under your desk is both common knowledge and should be the first step on your company’s emergency preparedness plan, a plan that should have been devised and distributed to all employees so they know what to do; this should be part of the company’s health and safety requirements.
Given that the best way to deal with a natural disaster - or any disaster - is to be prepared, let’s take a look at the steps that should have been taken to get you ready for this moment.
1. Stop, Drop and Roll?
Okay, "stop, drop and roll" is for fire, and probably not hell fire, but you know what I mean - do you know the basic moves that are considered common sense? Tufts University is on hand to remind you what to do:
Earthquake. The most common earthquake-related injuries are from being hit by something falling, so the best move is to stay indoors, get yourself under something sturdy like a desk, and hold on. Try to choose a desk away from windows, fragile objects and anything that might fall off the wall or ceiling.
Severe thunderstorm or tornado. Thunder might be harmless, but lightning isn’t and nor is 80mph wind or hail. To avoid getting blown away, stay indoors and out of elevators that might lose power, and find a stairwell or safe interior room, preferably near a support column.
Hurricane. Hurricanes are at least polite enough to usually come with advance warning, which gives you a chance to properly prepare; bring items inside that you don’t want to lose, get valuable items away from flood-prone areas, shut down sensitive equipment and have your emergency kits ready. Again, inside is your safest bet, away from the windows: most importantly, don’t trust that it’s over until the radio says it is, as the eye of the storm is a temporary lull before it picks up again.
Hell fire. No, it doesn’t actually refer to hell fire. I assume it’s similar to extreme heat, for which it advises to stay inside and limit exposure (good idea), drink plenty of water and avoid strenuous work. Also put the air-conditioning on full blast. If you work in a restaurant or somewhere with a walk in freezer, consider hiding in there?
2. Know the Emergency Action Plan
You might think you’re familiar with the things you’ve heard mentioned from time to time about what to do in the event of a disaster, but while the things you read on the internet are absolutely true in this instance, there should still be guidelines that your company has created and reinforced in you through emergency drills.
This plan is a requirement from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and dictates that this plan should be documented, given to all employees and also displayed in prominent locations around the workplace. It should detail what kind of alarm means what, what your first reaction should be and direct you to take the appropriate exit route when safe to do so.
This plan should be practised through emergency drills, both scheduled and unscheduled. They should be at different times of day, when there are visitors and when not, and should always be repeated when a new employee joins the company. It’s very easy to think you’re prepared in theory, but you can’t know how much you might panic in a real situation, so this plan needs to be as rehearsed as possible; drills are also an opportunity to put the plan into action and see if there are any issues that need to be addressed.
3. Know the Evacuation Plan
Assuming this disaster isn’t so disastrous that you’re stuck for a while, the next thing to do once the ground stops shaking is to get outside. You’ll need to know the exits closest to you, and the alternate routes in case an exit is blocked; again, these should be displayed either by Exit signs or exit route displays. You should know the best ways out, the nearest emergency utilities should there be a (small) fire you can tackle on your way out, and where you’re going once you’re out. There should be a specific floor, room or landmark where everyone is expected to assemble so that an assigned safety person can take roll call and ensure everyone is out.
4. If You Can't Get Out
Another part of the emergency action plan should be details of what to do if all the exits are blocked or there is some other reason you can’t or shouldn’t go outside. While there should be a safety team in charge, that doesn’t mean you don’t have responsibilities to know where the appropriate utilities are, know where to find emergency kits and other supplies, and be prepared to help anyone who doesn’t remember or is less able.
There should be open communication lines made available to everyone so you can know what’s happening outside; battery-powered radios to hear weather announcements, cell phones or a TV you can get to and see the local news. If reports are saying that everyone should be staying inside, and you don’t have access to a device to hear those reports while you try to evacuate, then you could end up injured due to that lack of communication. It’s also a good way to find out about your family and see if they were affected if you can’t get a hold of them.
Additionally, you should be aware of the locations of the emergency kits that should contain non-perishable food and a gallon of water per employee to last at least three days. These should be stored in storm-proof areas and contain anything that would help with communication and dealing with any issues that may have arisen; a flashlight in case of no electricity, a first aid kit in case of injury, emergency blankets for anyone in shock, prescription medication, battery operated radios and fully charged cell phones.
As the Boy Scouts like to say, you should always be prepared: health and safety begins with the very construction of a building that should be up to disaster-proof standards, then employers who should train their staff and never hire too many people, and employees who have a duty to know what to do, should disaster strike. There should be suitable safety precautions such as fire alarms, and clear guidance on what to do, where to go and who to look to. Your first reaction will be to panic, but the more you can stay calm and listen to the advice of your safety team or the reporters on the TV, the better your chances of survival.
Have you ever experienced a natural disaster while at work? Does your office have a clear plan of action should something happen? Let us know in the comments section below.