Fire & Life Safety
- By Mike Halligan
- September 1st, 2016
I have been working with several
school districts and a few boarding schools
this year updating their emergency egress
plans. As we started looking at the best routes
out of each building it became apparent that not
all egress routes were created equal. Specifically,
egress routes can evolve over time just as much
as the programs in the rooms. It reminded the
team that it is important to look at existing buildings periodically
and determine if changes in use, configuration of corridors or room
configurations has an impact on required egress routes. We also found
instances where evacuation floor plans gave wrong information
based on updates to fire alarm systems, areas of refuge and secondary
exits. In other locations, egress windows did not meet the
clear opening size as required by fire codes.
The 2015 Fire Code has specific requirements for maintenance of
egress routes and the signs or diagrams posted to graphically show occupants
what safety equipment and routes they have available to them.
Graphics for Emergency Evacuation Plans should depict at a
minimum the following:
- Primary and secondary
- Fire Extinguisher locations
- Pull Station locations (remove
from locations without)
- Emergency Assembly Points
(EAP) located away from the
- Areas of Refuge
- Severe Weather Shelter
location(s) within the building
- Building name and postal
- Instructions to report fires
and other emergencies
- Directions to not use elevators
- Guidelines to assist persons
with special needs.
Many buildings have wide corridor and lobby areas. Over time, the
configuration of furniture can change. It is important to review the
placement of furniture and verify it does not obstruct egress. Catering
and special event operations often set up tables and chairs in corridors
and rooms. Preapproving acceptable set up scenarios will
increase compliance with fire code egress requirements.
Many boarding school locations around the country make
use of emergency escape and rescue windows in residential occupancies.
There were two common problems identified during
the evacuation plan update. First, some windows did not meet
the minimum required opening or were too high off of the floor.
Ground floor windows must have 5 square feet of opening, and
those on upper floors must have a minimum of 5.7 square feet.
Some locations had windows that had the correct opening, but
poor maintenance (multiple layers of paint) did not allow the window
to fully open. In several locations, the height of the windowsill
exceeded 44 inches or did not meet minimum width (20 inches) or
height (24 inches). Other locations added grills or bars for added
security. These security features must be operational from the inside
the room without the use of keys or tools. Rooms with window
security features must also have smoke detectors installed.
Following are lessons learned at all locations this summer:
- Existing buildings must have egress routes and egress diagrams
- Reviews should be completed when new flooring is installed,
programmatic changes occur or when alarm systems or sprinkler
systems are installed; and
- Exterior site changes requiring new emergency assembly points
must include an update to interior diagrams directing occupants
to a location.
There are many other requirements related to maintaining safe
egress systems. The items listed here reflect common problems
identified at many schools. Every school should create a timeline to
evaluate both the physical components of the egress system as well
as user related impacts to the egress system.
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.
Mike Halligan is the President of Higher Education Safety, a consulting group specializing in fire prevention program audits, strategic planning, training and education programs and third party plan review and occupancy inspections. He retired after twenty six years as the Associate Director of Environmental Health and Safety and Emergency Management at the University of Utah. He frequently speaks and is a recognized expert on residence hall/student housing fire safety and large scale special event planning. He also works with corporate clients to integrate products into the campus environment that promote safety and security.