When life-threatening incidents occur in a high rise facility, effective emergency response and communication is of paramount importance to mitigate potential consequences. In order for emergency response and communication to be effective, preparedness is key.
In the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City, multiple regulations were enacted to improve the safety of employees and residents in high rise facilities. In November 2002, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) made it a requirement for all businesses with more than ten employees to develop an Emergency Action Plan (§ 67 FR 67961); and, in 2006, significant changes were made to the International Building Code - the standard applied by most jurisdictions in the USA for new build properties.
Many state and local governments also enacted amendments to their building codes - so that many of the safety regulations for new build properties also applied to existing properties - and most reviewed evacuation plans for public high rise buildings. Various agencies assisted with the reviews, including the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) who subsequently produced the comprehensive “Guidelines to Developing Emergency Action Plans for All-Hazard Emergencies in High-Rise Office Buildings” (PDF).
Safety in a High Rise Facility is Enhanced by New Technology
Advancement in technology has also enhanced high rise facility safety. From GPS monitoring that gauges the integrity of building structures following an earthquake or bomb attack to programmable turnstiles that can account for who is still in a building after an evacuation order has been issued, new technology is not only making high rise buildings safer but also improving emergency response and communication.
One of the ways in which new technology has significantly enhanced emergency response and communication is with the development of “Building Intelligence Systems”. Building intelligence systems provide critical information to first responders as they approach a fire or other emergency in a high rise facility. With an appropriate level of foresight, first responders can plan better and prepare better - resulting in more positive outcomes. The nature of information available includes:
- Floor plans and access points
- Security codes for gates, doors, etc.
- Alarm information and security codes
- Location of AEDs and utility shut-off points
- The availability of Occupant Evacuation Elevators
- Access to video surveillance and security cameras
- Key holder and security personnel contact information
- Location of water sources and air replenishment systems
This information needs to be kept up-to-date, along with details of temporary obstructions, construction works, out-of-service elevators, etc. This should be the responsibility of whoever is in control of the building's emergency action plan, and the system should be tested periodically with the cooperation of local emergency services to make sure it is working efficiently. This will naturally involve some inconvenience to employees and/or residents, but a little disruption is better than a negative outcome.
The Integration of Technologies Can Result in Even Better Outcomes
A Building Intelligence System is a great tool for reducing response times and enhancing communications, but when integrated with other systems such as Rave Alert and Smart911, the combination of technologies can save even more time and potentially more lives - not only in large-scale, high rise emergencies such as earthquakes, bomb attacks and fires, but also in individual emergencies, such as if an employee or resident suffers a heart attack.
Not only will first responders have access to building information through property managers, such as points of access and floor plans, but they can also have access to important medical information of an employee or resident in distress, such as medical history and any drug allergies. All of this information will be compiled and made available to emergency response during a crisis, ensuring that all those within a high rise facility - even those located at the very top - have access to a timely response.
In order for the combination of technologies to be effective, the systems should be tested periodically. Having the tools to facilitate effective emergency response and communication is one thing. Having experience of using the tools - through periodic drills and testing - is another. In an emergency situation, a clear understanding of procedures and the mechanisms to execute them is vital.