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Combined ISA & Fire Exit
Fire Evacuation Inserta

How Signs Save Lives

How signs save lives

Signs ? if simple, informative and current ? shave precious minutes off evacuation time in the event of a fire, each minute potentially equating to hundreds of saved lives. This article will look at the signs that are available to support your evacuation strategy, and some of the sign-related issues to consider to keep people safe in an emergency.

Coordinated signs

Once you have finished planning your evacuation routes, a good signage company can help to devise signs that support your plan.

Typically, as well as mandatory fire exit signs, you may need signs identifying the route to internal safe areas (ISAs) and that identify staircases, using a unique reference for each one. For example, you may wish to distinguish staircases by means of a unique alpha or numerical reference or perhaps even colour coding.

In many cases, an organisation needs different systems of signs to perform each of these functions, alongside standard wayfinding and corporate signage. However, the more signs you have, the more they can become part of the ?wallpaper?. In an emergency, this can be deadly. To avoid ?sign overload?, you want a systematic and coordinated way to convey the information. View each of your systems of signs as part of an overall approach, and see to it that they work together in harmony rather than as individual components.

If you fail to take a coordinated approach, one group of signs may clash with another, sometimes to the point of some signs only being partly visible. Since the John Lewis Partnership reviewed its evacuation procedures, incorporating coordinated signage, it has reduced the total time taken to evacuate its headquarters from 8 minutes to 6 minutes, potentially saving hundreds of lives.

Colour schemes

Although fire exit signs must be white on green, you have more choice in the colours you use elsewhere, but make sure your colour scheme is beyond any confusion. In the John Lewis headquarters, for example, the white-on-black colour scheme we used to identify ISAs was distinct from any other signage in the building. Further, they have more than 10 staircases, each with their own unique colour coding.

Staircase signs

During an evacuation, it is essential that signs specify if a staircase is not a safe route.

Use stairwell level indicators on landings to identify which floor you are on. This isn?t just useful on a daily basis when someone is looking for a person or department; it is very reassuring for people evacuating a building, and helps the fire brigade when entering the building.

Up-to-date maps

A3 floor plans are useful for displaying evacuation routes in tea points, breakout areas and other places where people tend to congregate. It is also good practice to have such a plan in meeting rooms, not just for visitors but also for staff who may be well away from their normal work area and familiar evacuation route.

Building interiors and partitions change over time, and so too will emergency routes. You can update your floor plans quickly and at low cost with AutoCAD or similar software, and house them in simple acrylic holders. We have helped a leading US financial company to benefit from this approach. The company had a ?restack? instead of moving from the 12-storey office in Central London where it had been for over 25 years. Over the course of 18 months, it completely gutted its building and reorganised its offices, and needed to update its safety routes a number of times in the process.

It is important to have the flexibility and ease of modification to update both the signage and floor plans to reflect changes. In an emergency, the results of having signage that isn?t current could be catastrophic.

Signs for fire marshals

In larger organisations, it can be difficult to keep track of who the fire marshal is. Our clients solve this problem with ?insert signs? that combine permanent information with the facility to update changes to variable information, e.g. a person?s name or location. This can be done quickly and efficiently, using nothing more than Microsoft Word and a standard printer.

Some organisations have signs that are clearly visible at the fire marshal's workstation, to help people to find their fire marshal in a huge open-plan office. This system also works very well for first aiders.

Fire marshals may also need to use ?fire sweep? tags and boards. In a large building, each floor is divided into zones ? one for each fire marshal. In the event of a fire, the fire marshal ensures everyone has left the zone, goes to a central control point and hangs a tag on a main control board with reference numbers corresponding to each zone. The fire marshals can then show the fire brigade which zones are clear, and which aren?t, so they know which areas to prioritise.

Signs: part of a cohesive strategy

Although signage plays a vital role in supporting your evacuation strategy, it is equally important to have induction and refresher training for staff, so that they know where to go in an emergency, and how to get there.

It can be a disadvantage to be overly familiar with your building and its routes. In our experience, it helps to have a specialist company look at your signage with fresh eyes and challenge the accepted thinking. For more advice and information, please contact us.