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Vol. LIX, No. 10
May 18, 2007

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Nice Weather Brings Flowers, Sunshine, Evacuation Drills

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 is essential.

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 prep.htm. Also, Manual Chapter 1430, “NIH Occupant Evacuation Plan,” is available at Call DEPC at (301) 496-1985 for more information. NIH Record Icon

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