Practical Steps for Conducting a Hotel Evacuation Drill

Hotel owners and managers who are doing hospitality right are naturally averse to inconveniencing their guests, which sometimes means avoiding evacuation drills.  But with planning and consideration any hotel property can safety conduct an evacuation drill and remain in the good graces of their guests.

Five Steps for Conducting a Successful (and hospitable) Evacuation Drill

Step 1: Plan the Day
  1. Pick a “Quiet” time of year
    • Off season / shoulder season
  2. Pick a “Quiet” day of the week
    • Low transition (check in / check out)
  3. Find a “Quiet” time of the day
    • E.g. after checkout rush / before check in rush
  4. Inform and plan with sensitive guest groups
    • Airline crews etc. – Consider moving for the day or planning around sleep hours
    • High profile long staying / residential guests
    • High profile corporate clients – Consider informing local contacts to determine sensitivity / needs
  5. Operational considerations
    • F&B outlets
    • Retail and external tenant outlets
    • Meeting and events departments
      • Consider blocking sale during drill timeframe
      • Consider planning meeting breaks to coincide with drill timeframe
  6. Information planning
    • Participant information
    • Full or partial information on drill and timing. (Always partial information as a minimum!)
      • Information on check in
      • “This is a drill” signage
    • Pre-inform media – Consider inviting them or having emergency services invite media
    • Pre-inform corporate offices
    • Pre-inform local fire department/emergency services
  7. Plan follow up checklists to be completed by staff and participating tenants, guests, external services
    • Had they completed evacuation training
    • Where were they when alarm sounded
    • Did they hear the alarm
      • If not, where was it not audible
    • Did they follow their procedures
      • If not, why did they deviate
    • Did they encounter hindrances
      • If yes, where, what and how were they overcome
    • Was evacuation signage visible and appropriate
      • If not, where was it lacking
    • Open comments and suggestions 
Step 2: Plan the Scenario
  1. Will it be small scale or full scale?
  2. Small scale
    • By department
    • By area of the property
  3. Full scale
    • Involves external emergency services
      • Involve them in planning the day and scenario
        • Long lead times
        • Ask for planning support
        • Consider small scale steps before a large full scale test is planned
    • Casualties / no casualties
    • Consider traffic implications – street closure permits / permissions
      • Police and civic authorities
    • Consider test of Fire Department riser connections
      • Fire Department inspectors
      • Invite fire department response teams to “get acquainted” meetings before full scale drills are held
    • Consider test of emergency power backup systems
      • Energy provider
      • Civic authorities if required
    • Consider test of communications
      • Direct alarm call from system to emergency response OR
      • Manual call to 911 (Europe 112) OR
      • Both

Only after everyone has tried, tested and is comfortable with small scale results can full scale scenarios be considered

Step 3: Train the Teams
  1. All staff must be trained in advance and comfortable with their roles and all procedures that will be part of the exercise.
    • Alarm response
    • Evacuation protocols
    • Communicating with emergency response providers
    • Communicating with guests, tenants and staff
    • Use of emergency equipment
    • Use of personal protection equipment
      • Consider hi-visibility vests for hotel response leaders
  2. Drills are meant to test procedures, equipment, communication, cooperation.
  3. Drills are not meant to test staff memory of their procedures, or their stress levels in pressure situations.

A drill is a drill, and everyone needs to know it is a drill.

Step 4: Execute the Drill
  1. Small scale
    • Walkthrough / desktop (e.g. at a department meeting)
      • What does the alarm sound like
      • Where are manual alarms located in their department
        • Phones
        • Manual call points or alarm buttons
      • Where are the evacuation routes from their department / workspace
        • Walkthrough both primary and secondary routes
      • Where are the muster points outside the building
      • To whom do they provide status reports when evacuated
  2. Full scale
    • Pre-meeting with observer teams
    • Pre-meeting with “casualties”
    • Recording and documenting the drill
      • Video?
      • Completion and collection of participant checklists
Step 5: Debrief
  1. Small scale
    • Q&A with staff at department meetings
    • One-to-one follow up with staff
    • Include a “test” that documents staff participation and knowledge
      • Where are alarm buttons located in your department
      • What is your primary evacuation route
      • What is your secondary evacuation route
      • Where is your muster place outside
      • To whom do you report when you arrive at the muster place
  2. Large scale
    • Hot debriefing
    • Immediately after the dill for all participants
      • Can be a “social” atmosphere with coffee / tea / snacks
      • Collect participant checklist and observer feedback forms
      • Open floor for immediate comment by participants
      • Open floor for immediate comment by external services
  3. Final debriefing
    • Following review and summary of gathered checklists and feedback forms
    • Involves hotel and external services response leaders
    • Decides next steps to change / update / revise procedures, equipment etc.

Follow these 5 steps for planning and conducting an evacuation drill and you’ll find your staff, guests, and hotel ownership respond positively to your efforts to keep everyone safe, trained, and well-rehearsed. 

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