Magazine article Risk Management

Emergency Planning for High-Rise Buildings

Magazine article Risk Management

Emergency Planning for High-Rise Buildings

Article excerpt

Emergencies such as fires, bomb scares and earthquake present special dangers for high-rise buildings. The large size of the building and the number of employees or tenants within the high-rise increase the building's vulnerability when disaster strikes and present special challenges for risk managers. A coordinated emergency-response plan that identifies potential risks and outlines the best response is perhaps the most important step risk managers can take to protect the occupants of high-rises during emergencies.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there are approximately 16,000 to 20,000 fires in high-rise buildings each year. This represents 2 to 4 percent of all building fires.

These fires are associated with 80 to 90 civilian deaths, 800 to 900 injuries and $100 million to $200 million in direct property damage. Most of these fires take place in apartment buildings. Very few high-rise building fires spread beyond the room or floor where the fire first starts because many high-rise buildings have sprinklers, smoke detectors and fire-resistive construction. Even though there are comprehensive requirements for fire protection systems in new and existing high rises, differences exist in building codes and safety standards.

Disaster research studies have identified organized planning as the most important element in successfully aiding victims in high-rise buildings. Such planning needs to be coordinated between the building's internal systems, such as safety controls and employee training, and community emergency-response agencies that will be called to the building during an emergency. Furthermore, the local police and fire departments, emergency medical service and other agencies should be consulted before an emergency occurs so that their needs can be addressed and any potential response obstacles can be eliminated.

Automatic and manually activated fire alarm systems should have a direct line to the local fire department through a central station approved by NFPA standards. Fire plans incorporating evacuation procedures should be developed with the assistance of qualified fire and safety managers or engineers. These plans should include methods for assignment and notification of the appropriate personnel; written instructions about alarm systems operation and methods for containing the fire; information on where fire-fighting equipment is located and specifications about evacuation routes and procedures. They should also address any factors that are unique to the building or local situation, and disaster instructions should be posted throughout the building and made available to personnel working in the building. Risk managers who are responsible for disaster planning must provide adequate resources for emergency response training for employees, demand that the personnel responsible for installing and maintaining emergency systems be properly certified and support building managers in evacuation planning and drills.

Because most people responding to disasters involving high-rise buildings have not had prior experience with such disasters, there is a tendency to see the situation and the response it requires as unique. Since an immediate response to victims is vital, well-rehearsed disaster plans and drills can give emergency personnel enough familiarity with a building to take away potential uncertainty about the best course of action.

Although definitions vary about which buildings should be considered high rises, most use the term to describe buildings more than seven stories or 75 feet high. The U.S. Fire Administration's National Fire Incident Reporting System defines four categories of high-rise buildings: 8 to 12 stories high; 13 to 24 stories; 25 to 49 stories and 50 or more stories high. The NFPA's Life Safety Code 101 requires the following safety devices in all high-rise buildings: a supervised automatic sprinkler system; a Class I standpipe system; a fire alarm system with an approved emergency voice and alarm communication system; emergency lighting; standby power and a central control station. …

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