Springtime at NIH brings warm breezes, birds chirping, flowers blooming and—building evacuation
drills. While a beautiful spring day may be beneficial to your psyche, the ability to safely evacuate your building in the event of an emergency
Twice-yearly evacuation drills are mandated by HHS. All employees should be familiar with building evacuation procedures and cooperate
with evacuation staff during both drills and in emergency situations. The occupant emergency
coordinator (OEC) for your building will be happy to discuss evacuation protocols if you have questions.
The ORS Division of Emergency Preparedness and Coordination (DEPC) manages the Occupant
Evacuation Plan for NIH, which includes all on- and off-campus buildings. While emergencies
can occur at any time, evacuation drills are scheduled only in spring and fall to take advantage of nice weather.
Although threats of terrorism are in the news these days, emergencies such as fires, odors of burning and accidental releases of hazardous
materials occur daily in NIH buildings. Last year, the NIH Fire Department responded
to some 2,841 emergency incidents on the Bethesda campus. Most were minor, but the potential always exists for serious events to occur. In order to ensure that all people can safely evacuate, the drills are important. The NIH Occupant Evacuation Plan contains provisions
for people with temporary or permanent disabilities who may need assistance in evacuating,
and for deaf or hard of hearing employees
who may not easily detect audible alarms.
Mary Ann Bell, an emergency management specialist,
manages the Occupant Evacuation Program.
She credits the hundreds of IC volunteers who serve as evacuation program staff for the long-term success of the program. “These people
unselfishly volunteer their time and effort to protect the NIH community, deriving nothing
in return except the satisfaction of knowing that they are instrumental in ensuring that all building occupants can safely vacate their facilities
during emergency conditions.”
While the NIH evacuation program has been around for decades, a relatively new initiative is the concept of sheltering-in-place. Bell explains, “Sheltering-in-place is intended to provide protection
for building occupants when conditions outside are hazardous and when remaining inside the building is safer than exiting.”
A hazardous-materials release outdoors or the approach of severe weather could trigger a decision to shelter-in-place. Sheltering-in-place is designed as a short-term solution, lasting from 15 minutes to several hours, depending on the precipitating
condition. In cases where the outside air may be contaminated, staff will shut down air intakes to prevent or minimize contaminated air from entering the structure. Shelter-in-place staff have been trained to assist other occupants during
this situation; many buildings have supplies stored (radios, flashlights, etc.) to facilitate this activity.
Michael Spillane, director of DEPC, knows that evacuating a building is not the highlight of any employee’s day. He notes, “As fire alarm technology has improved at the NIH, there are far fewer unnecessary alarms in our buildings, as compared to a few years ago. Being interrupted for approximately 10-20 minutes, twice a year, to participate in evacuation drills is a small price to pay for exercising this critical program.”
For more information on building evacuation procedures and sheltering-in-place, including available training, or to find out who the occupant emergency
coordinator is for your building, visit http://ser.ors.od.nih.gov/emergency_
prep.htm. Also, Manual Chapter 1430, “NIH Occupant Evacuation Plan,” is available at http://oacu.od.nih.gov/safety/1430.pdf. Call DEPC at (301) 496-1985 for more information.