For many, the month of May signals the home stretch of the school year. However, this shouldn't be a time to overlook required safety practices in the event an emergency should occur. Just this past Wednesday, a fire destroyed the Appleseed Academy school in Mesquite, Texas. A cause of the fire has not been determined but it is being reported that the building is a total loss. Fortunately, the building's fire alarm system notified the occupants and everyone was able to evacuate the building with no injuries. The school's director did confirm that students and staff participate in drills monthly, and are capable of evacuating the building in about two minutes.
Emergency egress and relocation drills are required as mandated specifically by a particular occupancy in Chapter 20 of NFPA 1, Fire Code or in Chapters 11 through 42 of NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, or as deemed necessary by the local AHJ. Requirements for drills are extracted from NFPA 101 but are located in Chapter 10 in NFPA 1 under General Safety Requirements. Fire inspectors play an important role in regulating and managing drills in facilities throughout their jurisdiction, especially in schools. Drills should always be designed and conducted in cooperation with the local authorities as the procedure and details of drills will vary jurisdiction by jurisdiction. Factors such as occupant demographics and location may all impact the details of the drill.
The purpose of emergency egress and relocation drills is to educate the participants in the fire safety features of the building, the egress facilities available, and the procedures to be followed. Speed in emptying buildings or relocating occupants, while desirable, is not the only objective. Prior to an evaluation of the performance of an emergency egress and relocation drill, an opportunity for instruction and practice should be provided. This educational opportunity should be presented in a nonthreatening manner, with consideration given to the prior knowledge, age, and ability of audience.
Additionally, NFPA 1 also contains the following provisions for drills:
- Frequency: Drills are to be held at sufficient frequency so as to familiarize occupants with the drill procedure and to establish conduct of the drill as a matter of routine. Means should be provided so that all persons subject to the drill are able to participate.
- Orderly and organized: Emphasis should be placed on drills being orderly rather than focusing on the speed of the evacuation. When occupants are not organized and not aware of their responsibilities during the evacuation, drills can become inefficient and cluttered. This only leads to evacuation taking more time. Focusing on orderly evacuation will benefit all occupants by allowing a faster and more efficient evacuation to occur.
- Simulated conditions: Drills must be held at both expected and unexpected times and under varying conditions. As fire is always unexpected, if the drill is always held in the same way at the same time, it will lose its value and effectiveness.
- Relocation Area: Drill participants must relocated to a predetermined location and remain at the location until a recall or dismissal signal is given.
- Documentation: A written record of each drill is to be completed by the person responsible for conducting the drill and maintained in an approved manner. Included in the documentation should be information such as date, time, participants, location and results of the drill.
Both new and existing educational occupancies, such as those facilities like the Appleseed Academy elementary school, mandate the conduct of emergency egress drills via Section 18.104.22.168 in the Code. They are required to comply with the provisions noted above from Section 10.5 as well as additional details from Section 22.214.171.124. Other occupancies may also supplement additional provisions for drills in their facilities in addition to whats required by 10.5. Drills in educational occupancies are required at the following frequency:
- Not less than one drill every month the school is in session (there are exemptions recognizing climates where weather is severe)
- One additional drill (other than schools open on a year round basis) is required within the first 30 days of operation
Fortunately, all students and staff at the Appleseed school were safe, in part thanks to the effective and diligent conduct of drills. Provisions from NFPA 1 and NFPA 101 can help ensure occupants well prepared for drills are also well prepared for emergencies.
Thanks for reading, Happy Friday!