Improving shopping centre fire evacuation preparedness is now in the spotlight, following news about the Chadstone Shopping Centre fire.
Evacuations scenarios in shopping centres are unique. Because it is a public place, occupants of the malls are transient apart from those who work in the shops. Hence, facility managers must ensure that tenant and mall staff know what to do, where to go, and how to properly guide shoppers in situations that require immediate evacuation.
Shopping centre fire evacuation exercises
To garner the most optimum results in shopping centre fire evacuation practices, the most ideal timeline would have to be within the first hour that the mall is open. It is deemed to be the most suitable for stimulating a near-real emergency scenario as all the occupants will already be going about their regular day-to-day business, and there would already be consumer traffic—albeit minimal—which could already account for the element of general consuming population present in more regular hours.
Wardens’ role in shopping centre fire evacuation
The Chief Warden and Floor and Area Wardens are tasked to facilitate a shopping centre fire evacuation practice briefing with the tenants and management staff. This is to apprise them of the emergency plans for the building about to be practised and should help mitigate the disruption to their operations. In this regard, Tenant staff may also be deputised as Area Wardens. Afterwards, the party will take a tour of the building, so the wardens can accurately identify its safety features and where they are located. Exits, paths of travel, firefighting equipment, and the assembly areas must be identified, as well.
Shopping Centre Fire Evacuation Practice Flow
Once the briefing is complete, the Chief Warden will then proceed to activate a smoke detector, possibly in a selected area to operate the fire alarm system. The Chief Warden, along with the Deputy, will then proceed to the Fire Indicator Panel (FIP), to establish Master Communication Point.
Meanwhile, the Floor or Area Wardens are to investigate and confirm the affected area for a fire. They must then proceed to their assigned area of responsibilities and prepare for the evacuation. The Chief Warden will provide the go signal for when evacuation should commence. Most likely, it will be done section by section to keep the flow as smooth and organised as possible. As for the Deputy Chief Warden, he is to call the Emergency Services or the Fire Brigade by dialling 000.
Evacuating the Shoppers
Because the shoppers are the visiting occupants in this scenario, the Floor and Warden Areas must take it upon themselves to guide the shoppers as much as possible, leading them to designated exits and pointing them to the correct assembly areas.
Should anyone not cooperate or refuse to evacuate, the Chief Warden must be duly informed. The presence of any person with a disability must also be reported to the Chief. Ultimately, it is up to the Wardens to ensure that everyone has been evacuated from their area, the status of which must also be reported to the Chief before leaving.
As for those in areas not selected for the shopping centre fire evacuation practice, they need not be evacuated. Although they won’t be required to move to the Assembly Area, the assigned Wardens for these sections must remain aware of what’s happening with the evacuated sections. Should circumstances change, requiring them to move to evacuate as well, at least they would be ready.
Access to the car park must also be restricted. Shoppers who came in through this way should not be allowed to go back, but instead, must make their way to the Assembly Area along with everybody else.
Fire Brigade, Assembly Area, Debriefing
Chief Warden should meet the fire brigade, so that they may coordinate on the current situation. The reports provided to the Chief Warden regarding anyone refusing evacuation, or are with a disability, will then be turned over to the Fire Brigade for further action.
As for the evacuated tenants and shoppers, they are to remain in the Assembly Area and await further instructions or announcements from the Chief Warden. A headcount must be made, and should there be anyone missing a companion, the information must be immediately brought to the Chief Warden’s attention. At no point in time, however, is anyone to be allowed to go back inside to search for their own companions. The fire brigade will be the one to take care of that.
Once the fire brigade confirms that the fire has been extinguished, and that there are no more threats to the safety of the occupants, the ALL CLEAR signal will be given by the Chief Warden. The Area Wardens may then give out the instruction to the shoppers or tenants to return inside in an orderly manner.
A debriefing session will follow the shopping centre fire evacuation practice. Here, the Chief Wardens, building management, and other key participants are going to synthesise their experience in the practice, making note of their impressions of the sequence of events, as well as deficiencies and possible recommendations for improvements. The results of the debriefing session will then be kept for future reference.
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