Overnight a fire raged through a 24-storey tower block in West London, completely destroying it, and claiming several lives. While this may have been a residential building, the speed with which the fire took hold is a clear warning that organizations must have plans to place to ensure the safety of their staff, as well as other stakeholders, should such an incident occur at work.
As land becomes more expensive, the number of high rise buildings being constructed is increasing all the time, with developers constantly striving to build taller and fit more office space on the same footprint of land. Many offices are also being redesigned to become open plan so an even greater number of people can be squeezed into the same square footage. This can come at a cost however. The taller a building gets, the greater the number of people who work within it, the greater the challenges are to find suitable escape routes for everyone should an emergency arise.
Had this building been an office block, had the fire swept through it in the middle of the day, how quickly could it have been evacuated? How quickly could your organization have made sure that all employees, and everyone else in the building, got out safely?
Some of the residents reported that they were only warned of the fire by other residents, not by the fire alarm system. If the fire alarms didn’t work then it is highly likely that the fire suppression system didn’t work either which is perhaps why the fire spread so rapidly. How frequently do you check the alarm system within your building? Can you say with a high degree of certainty that, if a fire occurred, everyone would be sufficiently warned?
It was also reported that some residents who were trapped in the building had resorted to flashing their mobile phone torches to gain attention and seek help. In desperation, this was all they could do. Organizations must have an effective emergency communications system in place so urgent two-way messages can be sent out to confirm that staff are safe, or, if they are not, then they can be located and made safe as soon as possible.
The safety of staff is paramount to business continuity and making our organizations more resilient. Office space and IT can easily be replicated elsewhere - staff cannot. Not to mention, of course, the moral duty to keep them safe. We must ensure that our buildings are safe environments to work in and that, should the worst happen, staff can safely exit the building. Furthermore, we must make sure that whatever plans, processes and procedures we have in place to safeguard our staff are exercised on a regular basis so any flaws can be found and resolved.
Executive Director of the Business Continuity Institute.