Home Evacuation Plans

You probably haven’t given much thought to how to get out of your home if you had an emergency, such as a fire event. Don’t worry; you aren’t alone. Evacuation plans have been around for a while…for commercial buildings and businesses. To think of applying this to your home might seem odd. But it’s truly not.

Evacuation plans are often required by city ordinance or building/life safety code in commercial occupancies because it’s designed as a tool to hopefully quickly and efficiently get people out of a building (that they might not be too familiar with) during an emergency, thus saving lives. If it’s good enough for a business, wouldn’t it be good enough for our homes, too? Most authorities in the fire safety and life safety fields sure think so! You could argue, “But I’m more familiar with my home than I am with a business I’ve never visited before”. And while I’d agree that you are probably much more familiar with your home than you are with a foreign environment that you’ve never been in before, wouldn’t you still want to educate all family members on what to do in the event of an emergency, and practice it, so that everyone’s chances of getting out would be improved?

While the fire service promotes it tirelessly, I fear that it’s not executed nearly enough. We often teach children about home evacuation plans during national Fire Prevention Week, with the hope that they will take our message, and talk about it at home with their parents. And even if they DO get the message home, the children might not be persistent enough to make their parents implement this. For these reasons, I fear our message never fully gets out. With my military background (and being a Fire Chief), I believe in “practicing what I preach”, and leading by example. And with moving into a new home that the kids were still adjusting to, I felt it even more important to talk about, draw out, and practice OUR evacuation plan!

1. How I drew my home evacuation plan.

I’m kind of a neat freak, a perfectionist, and a nerd all at the same time. I wanted a clean, professional-looking evacuation plan. Not to impress the kids (because I don’t think they truly appreciate the details anyway), but just for my own sanity. For clean, straight lines I felt that using Microsoft ® Excel was the way to go. It was a little tedious, but it wasn’t that hard; just time consuming. It’s not exactly to scale, but that’s ok…I’m not an architect. But it does give you the idea of how to get out of the house. And that’s the point. You can hand-draw your evacuation plan. The important thing is that people can identify it and interpret it well enough to know how to get out. If you wanted to get real crazy, there are commercial programs and software that draw floorplans and such, but those are often pricey and not practical to use unless you have an engineering degree.

2. Why you should have your own home evacuation plan.

The main purpose of this whole process is preparedness. I want my family to be prepared…for any emergency. Especially with children, it’s important to have these conversations and to talk through scenarios, so they become more fluent with it. Having these conversations with the kids makes them more familiar and comfortable with the topic. Not to the point of becoming complacent, but to the point that they are prepared for an emergency and don’t panic and shut down instead of jumping into action. As a Fire Chief, I hate to see ANY life lost due to fire, so I’m beyond motivated to protect my own family and make sure they are as prepared as possible.

3. Practice your plan with your family.

It started with a couple of questions and a short casual conversation with the curious kids, when they saw my framed home evacuation plan sitting on the snack bar. Feeding off their curiosity, I realized it was a perfect time to elaborate and explain the evacuation plan. We sat around the kitchen table and I explained the floorplan diagram. I explained that the exit arrows and windows were red in color, so that they stand out. We talked about having two exits from every room. We discussed why the door is your first option, and a window would be your second option. We discussed having a meeting place and why that was important.

Talking about it is great, and an important step in the instructional process, but until you actually PRACTICE it…how do you really KNOW that you know what to do? We do this in the fire service, too. We practice and practice and train and train until it becomes automatic. When you are under stress or get excited, muscle memory (along with your training) can take over and your body can do amazing things without you really thinking about it. So to follow up and complete the process with the kids, we needed to practice our evacuation plan! Sometimes they say, “You need to crawl before you walk,” and this was no exception. After discussing what to do, when it came time to actually DOING it, we walked through the steps, almost in slow motion. Before going full-speed, we did it at crawl-speed first; to break down individual parts, talk about them, why they are important, etc. After doing that a few times at crawl-speed, the kids were then more confident to try it at full-speed. This repetition becomes ingrained, with the hope that even when the kids get excited or start to panic…they will remember these steps and execute them without hesitation.

Once we had it down, we even documented it by video, for the benefit (and entertainment) of our viewers. We ran through a scenario from start to finish, with the kids hearing the smoke alarm going off, safely evacuating the house, and rallying at our family meeting place, which has been designated as our mailbox.

4. Is all of this really necessary?

Why go through all of this? Sounds like a lot of work, right? I think we often times give ourselves too much credit and assume that we’d just know what to do in an emergency. Taking the time to educate the family, practice our plan, and have these discussions is invaluable. Not only does this give me added confidence and help me sleep better at night, knowing that I know the kids have been trained and know what to do…it also gives the kids the confidence to act, which is even more important. I don’t assume we know what to do; I KNOW we know what to do! And truly, it doesn’t take much time at all to do this on your own.

If you would like any additional information, tips, or advice I’d be happy to talk with you one-on-one. Would you like to share your home evacuation plan with us? Maybe you have some ideas or tips that we haven’t thought of? We’d love to hear from you!