What Is a Refuge Point?

 In Blog

Preparing for an emergency is crucial in all places of work, hospitals, schools, retirement communities and places of residence. Doing so enables the calm and safe evacuation of employees, students, and residents alike.

An emergency evacuation plan can also help reduce damage to the building and other assets depending on the situation. Additionally, it can protect neighbouring buildings and the surrounding environment.

In some cases, being ready for an emergency may be the law. In British Columbia (for example), employers must do a risk assessment of their workplace. In this assessment, they must include planning for the possibility of an evacuation and they must train team members on the evacuation process.

In Ontario, condo boards are mandated to develop a Fire Safety Plan, which must be made available to all tenants, local fire departments, other emergency response units, and local fire prevention offices.

Knowing the details of an emergency evacuation plan is crucial not only for those who make it but for those who will be required to follow it during an emergency situation — like a fire, a gas leak, loss of power, flood, human threat or a natural disaster, like an earthquake, hurricane or tornado.

While specifics will vary based on the location, the building size, its capacity, and the community it serves, there are some big-picture fundamentals that an emergency evacuation plan should include. These involve several steps to follow based on the emergency and the role that refuge points and emergency response tools — like evacuation chairs for stairs — will play.

Identifying Hazards and Vulnerabilities

When one creates an emergency evacuation plan, one of the mandatory early stages will be identifying any hazards or vulnerabilities that the premises offer — be it a workplace that develops and distributes a hazardous material, a workplace that uses heavy machinery, or a condo building in an area that’s susceptible to wildfires.

Highlighting all potential hazards will allow you to create a series of steps in your response to each type of emergency.

What’s Included in an Emergency Evacuation Plan?

Emergency evacuation plans may include the following pieces of information.

  • The contact information for emergency services (e.g., fire, ambulance, police, etc.) in your region.
  • Notices letting employees, tenants, or visitors know how they’ll be notified and updated during an emergency (e.g., through a PA system or verbally).
  • The contact information and a hierarchy detailing who’s in charge during an emergency.
  • Maps and a supporting list of directions for evacuees. These should both identify emergency exits and where emergency response tools — like fire extinguishers and evacuation chairs — are located for easy access.
  • For multi-storey buildings, building evacuation refuge points.

Today, we’re going to focus on the refuge point: what it is, the community it serves, and how to identify a suitable location for one.

What Is a Refuge Point?

Refuge points are designated areas on the floors of multi-storey buildings — they’re spots where individuals who may need assistance during an evacuation are to await help from emergency response crews, an identified team member, a senior teacher, or a building manager.

Persons who are unable to safely descend stairs alone, including persons in wheelchairs, those with temporary injuries who might be using mobility tools (like crutches), pregnant people, persons who are visually impaired, and seniors — to name just a few — would congregate at the refuge point.

A wide lens shot three different buildings. There’s a tan brick building to the left, a short modern glass building on the right, and a tall grey glass building in the centre

Where Are Refuge Point(s) Located?

In some cases, refuge points may already be identified in your building, as their inclusion is becoming increasingly more common in modern building plans.

Refuge point(s) should be located on every floor of a multi-storey building. The area should have enough room to accommodate a wheelchair user so that they’re not obstructing the safe exit for other persons. The refuge point should also offer persons at least 30 minutes of protection from an advancing fire.

If a building doesn’t have a pre-designated refuge point, some considerations when seeking a location may include the following:

  • Is the area easy to access — not only for individuals in need, but also for emergency services?
  • Is it possible to install a two-way talk system? Two-way communication systems allow persons to flag their need for help or their need for guidance while allowing first responders to keep in continual contact.
  • Is the space well-lit? If not, is it possible to add extra lighting to ensure visibility?

Another essential feature for a refuge point to truly serve its intended purpose involves procuring an evacuation chair, or evacuation chairs.

Evacuation Chairs and Refuge Points

Refuge points are the perfect places when you’re deciding where to store evacuation chairs. It’s recommended that every floor (and its relevant refuge point) have at least one evacuation chair. However, this number will vary based on the demographic of the building’s employees or tenants. For example, hospitals and senior’s homes will have a greater population of individuals who will need help during an emergency evacuation, and so multiple chairs will be necessary.

We have two models of evacuation chairs, and both come with a convenient wall mount and a protective cover. This makes it exceptionally easy to hang your evacuation chairs at refuge points so that they’re not in the way during regular day-to-day operations. However, should the need arise, they’re incredibly easy to access.

In your building’s evacuation response plan, ideally someone will be identified as an escort for those who need assistance. Multiple people should receive evacuation chair training in case the initial trainee is off sick or on vacation during an emergency.

Fortunately, our evacuation chairs are very easy to use and navigate. That said, we do provide a training DVD with every chair, and we also encourage routine training for those who will both need and use the chair.

Connect with Us for Quality Evacuation Chairs for Your Refuge Points

By planning ahead and by incorporating refuge points and evacuation chairs into your building’s evacuation plans, you’re significantly boosting your chances of a safe and calm evacuation for all.

We are always available to discuss your evacuation chair needs and any questions you might have. Connect with us today!

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