Your guide to staying safe in any building during any crisis

When an emergency such as a fire, flood, or gas leak breaks out you need to be prepared to evacuate. Whether you’re at school, in the workplace, or in any other public space, it’s important to have a solid evacuation plan you can follow closely in an emergency. In this article, we’ll show you the best way to plan your evacuation route, leave the building you’re in, and stay safe once you’re outdoors.

Things You Should Know

  • Look at evacuation plans posted around the building you’re in, and identify the safest and nearest exits to where you’re working, staying, or visiting.
  • Proceed to the nearest exit as quickly as you can. Stand away from the building or in a designated meeting area and wait for directions from first responders.
  • Wait to re-enter the building until you’re cleared to do so by emergency responders. Assess any damage and modify your evacuation plan for future emergencies.
Part 1
Part 1 of 3:

Planning an Evacuation Route

  1. Office buildings, hotels, restaurants, and other commercial spaces often have pre-established evacuations plans and procedures. Check with building management to find out about the evacuation protocol if you are in this type of building.[1]
    • Look for evacuation maps on building doors and in public areas such as lobbies and stairwells.
    • If you are looking for evacuation plans for your office, check with your manager or the company head regarding current evacuation plans and what roles different people are to fill during an emergency.
  2. Find routes that will get people out of the building with the least risk during an evacuation. Look at your building plans to help people find the exits nearest to them, and create an evacuation plan that takes people to their nearest exit quickly and safely.[2]
    • Try to avoid potential hazards such as going through kitchens or areas with large windows. These pose an excess risk as lines in kitchens can break and exacerbate emergencies while windows may blow out and cause increased risk due to glass.
    • Be sure to avoid mechanical transportation such as elevators, as these could fail and put people at an increased risk. Use stairwells whenever possible.
  3. Provide clear markers for people to guide people to exits from the building. Post evacuation maps throughout the building, and mark exits with clear “EXIT” signs.
    • In spaces that do not get much natural light, such as interior hallways, you may also want to consider placing photoluminescent strips along the sides of the floors to help guide people to the nearest exit.
  4. Make sure other people using the building know about the evacuation plan. Help them identify their nearest exit and tell them about safety precautions such as avoiding elevators.
    • It may also be helpful to appoint safety monitors to help guide others in the event of an evacuation if you are dealing with a large space that holds a great number of people.
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Part 2
Part 2 of 3:

Leaving the Building

  1. If possible, find out why you are evacuating before you leave the building. Knowing why an evacuation has been called can help you modify your plan if necessary to best accommodate the circumstances.[3]
    • If, for example, there is a fire that blocks your nearest exit, you know to go in the opposite direction of the fire, even if another exit is further away.
    • If there is an active threat such as a bomb threat or an armed person spotted, seek instructions from authorities such as the police or fire department before attempting to evacuate.
  2. Once you know you are to evacuate, proceed quickly to your nearest exit. Do try to avoid panicking, as panic can quickly disorganize a group, slow down the evacuation process, and put more people in danger.[4]
    • Do not worry about gathering belongings that are not immediately within reach. Taking time to pack a bag or go to another room once an evacuation has been called is dangerous. Take only what is already on your person or already packed and within arm’s reach.
    • If possible, exit through your nearest clearly marked exit sign. If a standard exit truly is not accessible, look for other ways out of the building such as through a window.
    • Do not use the elevators. Elevators in evacuations are reserved for use by emergency personnel. Using elevators also puts your life at risk as the elevator may fall, stop, malfunction, or otherwise fail to work. If you have a disability that does not allow you to go down the stairs, call 911, report your location, and wait for emergency personnel at the designated Area of Rescue Assistance. Depending on the building, there may be evacuation chairs that can be deployed by wheelchair companions.
  3. Once you have exited the space, make sure to put a safe distance between you and the building. Depending upon the situation, authorities may have set up a do not cross line to indicate a safe distance.
    • Consider whether there is a designated meeting place outlined in your evacuation plan. If you are supposed to meet with others in a designated area, proceed directly to that area.
    • Think about how much space is necessary for different types of emergencies. An emergency such as an electrical problem in the building likely requires less space than something like a fire. Consider how much space you need based on the reason for evacuation.
  4. Once you are a safe distance away from the building, check in with the authorities or emergency responders to let them know you're safe and see what your next steps need to be. This is also the time to let someone know if you have been injured during evacuation.[5]
    • If no authorities or first responders are present, call the police or fire department as appropriate to warn them of potential threats and receive further instruction.
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Part 3
Part 3 of 3:

Following Up After an Evacuation

  1. Before you reenter the building, make sure you get clearance from emergency responders that the building is safe and whatever threat caused the evacuation has been contained. Do not reenter a building that has not been inspected by the proper authorities.[6]
    • If you were sent away after an evacuation, call to check in with the building manager or local authorities to make sure the space is safe to re-enter.
    • Let them know, "We had to evacuate because of an emergency, and we would like to know if it is safe to reenter the space?"
    • Additionally, it may be helpful to ask, "Are there any precautions we should take when going back into the space for the first time?"
  2. If physical damage was done to the space, take careful note of what damage occurred and what may be harmed or missing. Report any damage to the building manager, or to the authorities and your insurance if you own the building.[7]
    • In addition to noting damaged items, note anything that seems lost or stolen.
    • Take photographs or videos of the damage as well as thorough notes in case it is necessary for you to file an insurance claim.
  3. Take this evacuation experience as an opportunity to work out kinks in your plan. Check with others if possible to see if there were obstacles or moments when the evacuation was slowed or stalled, and update your plan accordingly.
    • If an evacuation was particularly slow, look for alternative routes or consider dividing people up more evenly among exits.
    • Recap with the evacuated group to address any problems that you saw and suggest improvements for the future.
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Community Q&A

  • Question
    Why do buildings have fire drills?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Buildings will plan and rehearse fire drills, especially in schools with young children, because if a fire actually happens in the building, it's important that everyone knows exactly what to do and where to go. Without a plan in place, there will be chaos, and people are more likely to be hurt or killed in the fire.
  • Question
    What is in fire that can kill a human?
    Community Answer
    Community Answer
    Smoke from the fire can kill you by causing asphyxiation from smoke inhalation. Contact with a fire can also destroy your body the same way it does a piece of paper.
  • Question
    What is the safe distance to put between me and the building?
    Top Answerer
    It depends on the height of the building and the particular emergency. 30 feet is probably a safe distance for a house, but you may need to go further back in larger buildings or even evacuate the entire area, depending.

About This Article

wikiHow Staff
Co-authored by:
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This article was co-authored by wikiHow Staff. Our trained team of editors and researchers validate articles for accuracy and comprehensiveness. wikiHow's Content Management Team carefully monitors the work from our editorial staff to ensure that each article is backed by trusted research and meets our high quality standards. This article has been viewed 115,986 times.
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Co-authors: 16
Updated: October 4, 2023
Views: 115,986
Article SummaryX

In the case of an emergency, it’s important to know how to evacuate a building so you can stay safe. Often, buildings, hotels, and other commercial spaces have evacuation plans on doors and in public areas, like lobbies and stairwells. If you don’t see an evacuation map, check with the management or company head to find out what the current plan is. You can also look for safe escape routes, like exits and stairwells. Do not use elevators, which are reserved for emergency personnel and can put your life at risk if they stall or fall. Once you exit the space, put a safe distance between yourself and the building and go to your designated meeting place, if there is one outlined in the evacuation plan. To learn how to get clearance to reenter a building after an evacuation, keep reading!

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