School science labs need to be evacuated in the event of a fire, chemical spill, gas leak, the release of chemical toxins, or other laboratory incident or building issue. The top priority in an emergency evacuation is to ensure all laboratory occupants make it out alive and safe. This blog post describes emergency evacuation planning and training for science teachers.
At the beginning of the school year, teachers need to review evacuation procedures with students and a conduct an evacuation drill. In preparation of the evacuation, teachers must make sure exits and aisles in the laboratory are not blocked and free and clear of all trip-fall hazards such as a book bag on the floor. The National Fire Protection Association standards require schools to have emergency lighting and signage at all exits indicating the evacuation route. Make sure students know the evacuation routes and the staging area outside of the facility where the class will regroup after they exit the building. Make sure students know the location of emergency fire alarm pull boxes in corridors.
To plan for an evacuation:
• Have access to an active chemical and biological inventory to provide to the emergency responders.
• Keep the names of trained personnel who work in liaison with emergency responders.
• Have a list of actions to be taken in the lab when the fire alarm is activated (e.g., shut off active flames, turn off electrical equipment).
• Be familiar with the location of engineering controls (e.g., fire extinguisher, eyewash station, spill kits, fire blanket).
• Bring several plastic refuse bags for students to deposit personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent cross-contamination.
• Know two or more evacuation routes from the building in case the one indicated by the exit signs becomes blocked.
• Set up a staging area outside the building for laboratory occupants.
• Do not re-enter the facility until emergency responders or an administration representative provides notification that it is safe to return.
Building evacuation instructions
• When the fire alarm sounds the science teacher should, if possible, shut off ignition sources (e.g., gas), cover hazardous chemical containers, close fume hood sash, close windows, and turn off all electrical equipment before exiting.
• Make sure students exit the building immediately after the fire alarm goes off.
• If someone becomes injured (suffers a cut, burn, or is exposed to toxins), the teacher might need to seek help from the school nurse, security, or administration officials to remove the injured occupant and secure immediate medical assistance.
• The teacher, who should be the last occupant exiting the room, needs to close the laboratory door.
• All laboratory occupants should exit from the same door.
• Always respond to the fire alarm; never assume it is a false alarm.
• Remove PPE, if possible, before exiting. If not, exit the facility with PPE and once at staging area, roll gloves and goggles in a lab apron and then place them in a plastic bag.
• Be prepared to assist students with disabilities. If students are in a wheelchair or on crutches, proceed to the closest “area of refuge” and call in for rescue help. Do not use the elevator. An area of refuge is a designated location within a building (e.g., a stairwell) specially designed to hold people safely during an emergency. The area of refuge is set aside for situations when evacuation may not be possible or is otherwise unsafe for certain occupants (e.g., students with physical disabilities).
• Stay clear of emergency responders entering the site.
• When outside the building, move immediately to the staging area to take attendance.
• Depending on the severity of the emergency, evacuees may need to move even farther away from the building. Follow instructions provided by classroom teacher, evacuation monitor, or when prompted by administration (usually over the PA system).
Procedures for fires in the lab
If a fire originates in the laboratory, take the following actions.
• Determine the level of the fire. Small and manageable fires can be extinguished by removing the source of ignition (e.g., shutting off gas), and using the appropriate type of extinguisher.
• Fire originating in the fume hood can be extinguished by closing the sash.
• Fires determined not to be manageable require evacuation.
• Pull the fire alarm to signal evacuation.
• Evacuate the building by following the “Building Evacuation Instructions” described above.
• Have a laboratory fire safety compliance checklist to help prevent potential lab fires from starting in the first place.
Mount Holyoke College has an effective plan for evacuations caused by chemical emergencies. In part, their manual states:
Possible incidents are classified into two categories: emergency responses or incidental releases. An emergency response is an occurrence that results, or is likely to result, in an uncontrolled release of hazardous materials that requires a response effort by employees outside the release area or other designated responders (e.g., fire department, clean-up contractor). Situations generally resulting in emergency responses include:
• the release requires evacuations of the area
• the release poses, or has the potential to pose, conditions that are immediately dangerous to life and health
• the release poses a serious threat of fire or explosion
• the release requires immediate attention because of imminent danger
• the release may cause high levels of exposure to toxic substances
• there is uncertainty that those working in the area can safety handle the hazard
• the situation is unclear or data is lacking on important factors.
An incidental release of hazardous materials occurs when (1) the substance can be absorbed, neutralized, or otherwise controlled at the time of release by those in the immediate release area or other laboratory personnel, or (2) a release where there is no potential safety or health hazard.