At the end of July it emerged that a whistle blower had raised concerns about the evacuation procedures at Glasgow's Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, claiming the policy was not fit for purpose. Amongst the issues highlighted was an alleged lack of designated fire wardens to coordinate the evacuation response. Instead, nurses had to lead patients out in a haphazard manner with no checklist to monitor whether everyone was out safely. There were also suggestions that when alarms went off, staff failed to respond coherently or even at all, with patients left wandering around confused about how they should react and where they needed to go. The health board has responded by stating they’ve completed extensive fire risk assessments and created plans covering all aspects of fire safety including evacuation. Employees are trained to ensure they know what is required of them.  Fire evacuation processes are in place and fire action notices are clearly displayed in all areas telling people what to do in the event of a fire alarm going off. But the board is looking into the concerns that have been raised. What the outcome will be remains to be seen. But it does highlight how challenging it can be to have and maintain effective fire safety evacuation plans in premises where more vulnerable people are located. Every fire risk assessment in any applicable premises should be continually reviewed of course but environments where more vulnerable people are based do require particular ongoing attention. Conducting fire drills in care homes Like hospitals, care homes are environments where residents could struggle to be evacuated quickly. Fire drills are critical, yet given the nature of the residents they can be complex to carry out. Simply raising the alarm can present challenges if residents are hard of hearing. So it’s important that a suitable method is in place such as an audible alarm combined with warning lights. It’s not always feasible to expect every resident to participate in a full drill either. Certain individuals may be unable to be moved for health reasons. Even where residents can be moved, it may not always be desirable to do so during a drill; it could, for instance, cause anxiety. It’s essential that risk assessments are continually reviewed and updated to identify anyone who faces specific challenges. It will sometimes be necessary to identify appropriate actions to be taken in a personal emergency evacuation plan (often referred to as a ‘PEEP’). Those actions could include consideration of moving individuals into a designated refuge point within the building if there’s appropriate passive fire protection in place. It might cover any evacuation aids that could be of assistance such as emergency evacuation chairs, slide sheets, rescue mats or stretchers. All plans must set out the necessary steps to protect all residents and be clearly and regularly communicated to staff. Evacuating young children Young children make up another vulnerable group who could find fire drills difficult. The sudden loud noise of the alarm combined with the need to leave a building quickly can be upsetting to them. So it’s generally advisable to make younger children aware beforehand, explained in the appropriate way according to age, that there will be a fire drill. They need to have some sense of what to expect and what they need to do. This must then be supported by ongoing guidance during the actual drill. There should be calm instructions given to follow a teacher or assistant to the closest exits (ideally with another member of staff at the end of the line of children) and to walk to a safe assembly point, well away from any other risks like moving cars, to take the register. In some day care settings children might not attend on the same day, or at the same time of day. Therefore it’s advisable to practice evacuations on different days and at different times so all children have some familiarity with what they need to do. Evacuation planning should again incorporate any PEEPs where necessary so any specific issues around mobility or other factors are addressed to ensure safe evacuation. Review, review then review again Every fire drill should be followed up with a thorough review. This ensures there’s an in-depth understanding of how well it went and allows the identification of any further steps that might need to be taken to deal with concerns. And it contributes to a mindset where fire risk assessments and safety plans are regarded as dynamic documents. Circumstances can change continually; assessments and plans need to reflect that to make sure any problems that could manifest themselves with regards to evacuation are quickly identified and resolved. Jackson Fire and Security has extensive experience in carrying out fire risk assessments in premises where there are vulnerable residents so please contact us if you would like some advice.