Emergency Preparedness is for Everyone

By Sarah Panfil, Senior Board Assistant, Legislative Services - Board Operations, Clerk of the Board of Supervisors

Are you prepared for an emergency evacuation from your work site? What if you are an employee with mobility challenges?  Preparing for emergency evacuations is standard practice.  We have regular fire drills to practice getting everyone out of the building in the case of an emergency. From these drills, you know where to find various exits and where to meet safely outside the building. 

But what if you can’t go down the stairs with everyone else?

The County of San Diego emphasizes the importance of safety and planning for emergencies.  The County has taken standard practices one step further by researching the needs of employees with disabilities. Over the last two years a committee has developed tools to assist employees and anyone with physical limitations to plan for an emergency at work. 

These tools are now available on the County’s Intranet site. Located under Disaster Preparedness & Protocols, the link “Tips for Employees with Disabilities” takes you to the main page http://cww/BeAwareBePrepared/DisabledEvac.htm where tools and other helpful links are listed in three main sections: Helping You Make a Decision, Why and How Should I Prepare, and 7-Steps to Help You Prepare For An Emergency At Your Worksite.  In the first section, Heart To Heart is an article about realizing and communicating your requirements during an evacuation. To Drill Or Not To Drill is a video delving into the thoughts behind deciding whether or not to participate in an evacuation drill.

No one expects an emergency evacuation to occur but everyone should be prepared for one.  Whether you plan on your own or work with a support team, the plans you make can make a difference. For instance, I am fortunate that we have a plan in place at my work site and have practiced it. 

Earlier this summer, due to a fire alarm, my work site, the County Administration Center (CAC), was evacuated. I am in a wheelchair and cannot use the stairs on my own to exit.  As planned ahead, when the alarm sounded, I met with an available member of my evacuation team, quickly assessed the situation and followed the signs to the designated CAC’s Evacuation Assistance Area.  Within a few minutes, we were given permission by emergency personnel to use the elevator to exit. Then we calmly and safely left the building.  This sounds simple and easy. And it should be – if you plan ahead.  

If you do not have a plan, and everyone else is rushing down the stairs, it can be daunting to be the one left at the top of the stairs.  Make plans. During an emergency, sometimes planned exits are blocked. What if the elevator is not usable? Remain flexible so that you can work around those possibilities. We have discussed multiple exit strategies and we practice them on a regular basis. This has served us well in actual emergency events such as the evacuation earlier this month.  The plans we created can also be used to assist others who might be visiting our office when there is a call to evacuate the building.

I encourage all County employees to take the time to visit the website, review the materials, and prepare for emergencies. Be a Knowledge Worker and make a difference. By working together and planning ahead, we can reduce risks, save time and save lives.