Adjusting Your Evacuation Plans for Winter Weather

 In Blog

When you picture a fire drill, you probably think of evacuating your building under blue skies with the sun warming a subtle breeze in the air. But an emergency doesn’t always coordinate with the year’s best weather. Sometimes, you’re forced to wait for the authorities at your Emergency Assembly Point in the middle of winter.

Depending on where you call home, inclement weather may create a blustery backdrop to your evacuation. Here in Toronto, the headquarters of the Evacuscape emergency evacuation chair, Old Man Winter delivers mounds of snow as the temperatures plummet well below zero. Our winter storms create dangers that may require you to evacuate when the weather is at its worst.

Whether you can expect frequent snowstorms or just an occasional cold snap, winterizing your evacuation plans can help you and your team face these seasonal conditions safely. Keep scrolling for ideas. Below we share some of our favourite tips for managing a wintertime emergency. 

1. Remove Snow from Your Building

A thin layer of ice over the parking lot and walkways. Snow-covered stairs. Piles of slush in front of your door. These may be the signs that winter has arrived, but they’re also considerable safety hazards. Left untreated, these conditions may lead to dangerous slip and falls. According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, some 9,000 people went to hospital after falling on ice in 2016–2017. 

Luckily, avoiding a fall on your premises is easy. Take care to remove snow from your walkways and parking lot and lay down salt to melt any ice. If you have a lot of standing water around your building, you may consider levelling the pavement to eliminate the chances uneven ground leads to an injury. 

Removing these hazards will keep employees safe as they enter and exit your building every day. But more importantly, keeping these arteries clear will remove the chance of someone injuring themselves during an evacuation.

Keep this in mind at home, too. If you live with your aging parents, you’ll want to keep your driveway, sidewalks, and pathways clear of obstructions and slipping hazards. Seniors lose their mobility as they age, and they’re more susceptible to injuries if they fall. As a result, falls are the most common cause of injury for older Canadians. 

2. Stay on Top of Indoor Maintenance

It’s inevitable someone will track snow and slush into your building despite your best efforts to keep your grounds clear. When they do, snow melts, leaving behind water on tiled floors and stairs. 

Removing standing water from these areas is essential for the safety of your employees and guests at any time, but it’s especially important during an emergency. Keeping exits clear will reduce the chance someone will slip while attempting to evacuate. 

Operating an evacuation chair will also be easier in case you need to help someone with reduced mobility descend the stairs during an emergency. While we designed both our evacuation chairs so that they’re simple to use — check out our different evacuation chair models here — water, slush, and snow can create slipping hazards. Keeping your stairs dry will help reduce the chance someone will slip while steering the evacuation chair.  

Instruct your caretaking team to keep a watchful eye on these hazards and install rugs to help absorb water that may collect before they can reach it.

3. Promote a Safe Work Culture

Despite your best efforts to prevent winter hazards, some may sneak past your defences. Encourage your employees to feel comfortable raising concerns about your winter preparedness. They can be your eyes and ears of winter hazards that escape your notice, alerting you to dangers before they result in tragedy.  

If you have people with reduced mobility on staff, you may want to reach out to them directly. Ask them if they have any concerns or suggestions about how you can address winter weather in a way that will help them both in their day-to-day jobs and emergencies. 

Your local labour and health and safety boards are also good resources. Here in Ontario, those would be the following organizations:

4. Relocate Your Emergency Assembly Point

Your Emergency Assembly Point (EAP) is the designated area where your staff will gather after they evacuate the building. Usually, it’s a place that’s easy to identify and relatively nearby, but far enough away from your building that it provides a safe refuge from a fire. Lamp posts, corners, and even other buildings often end up being the EAP of the typical evacuation plan. 

While these may work during fair weather, they may not be the best choice when Old Man Winter arrives in town, so consider your choice of winter EAP carefully. 

You may want to move it to a place that provides better shelter from rain, snow, or a bone-chilling wind. In an emergency, you may not be able to dress for the weather waiting for you outside. Spending any length of time outdoors in these conditions can be tough if you don’t have the time to grab your jacket and gloves before you’re out the door. 

You should also provide two backups in case inclement weather makes your first (or second) EAP unavailable. Make a note of these alternative locations in your evacuation plans, label them, and make sure you incorporate them when going over any drills during the winter. 

Regular practice helps your team be prepared should you ever need to escape your building. During these drills, make sure you appoint a team of people who can operate the evacuation chair for stairs and refresh their training often. Keeping this skill fresh in their minds will help them work efficiently, even when under pressure in an emergency.

Bottom Line

What works in a summertime emergency may not hold up in winter’s deep freeze. Icy walkways, snow, and wind chill can complicate even a well-oiled evacuation plan. Remember these tips as you update your evacuation plan to suit the season. 

If you have any questions about how best to use your evacuation chair this winter, then you’re in the right place. Get in touch with us any time, and one of our safety specialists will be able to walk you through the best way to operate an evacuation chair — whatever the season!

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