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Reply To: Fire Drills

Cameron Dewe

Centre Evacuation procedures should be part of your business continuity planning. Evacuation Drills should be like the real thing as far as possible – otherwise someone might be killed if the real fire/tornado happens and people treat it like a drill!

If the plan is approved by senior management, who give authority to allowing their employees to evacuate and test the plan, and are prepared to wear the cost of the disruption, then it is likely to gain wider acceptance. If there needs to be any persuading done because of the expense of a test, consider the risk that you are exposed to by not testing your disaster plan and things go badly wrong because the plan was faulty. (What is the cost of a wrongful death law suit?)

If you have a real fire that puts your centre out of action, it could take days to get things back operating at another site, if you do not have a disaster plan. If you do not have a back plan it could take months to reccover from a fire as the building may need to be sanitised and equipment replaced. I say this from experience, after a fire that affected the building I was working in, it took 4 hours for the TelCo to just night service the affected call centre remotely, so the calls could be rerouted to a backup centre. It took a day to organise extra staff for the backup centre, a month to clean up, and a year for the smokey smell to go away. – And the fire was in the building next door, only smoke got into our building!

Before you consider having a drill, you should have a means to make the whole centre “Busy” or take it off line. All incoming calls should be routed to a backup centre, such as a message service, or voicemail, or an announcement that says something like “Thank you for calling, your call cannot be answered at present as our call centre has been evacuated temporarily, please call again in half an hour.”

Have written evacuation procedures and Instruct and train everyone in the evacuation procedure every six months. Train all agents to announce “I’m sorry, there is a fire alarm here, I have to hang up now.” and then release the call and log out. (Very important to log out.)

Appoint floor wardens whose job it is to ensure everyone evacuates. One warden should ensure everyone logs off their phones to stop calls being answered. Floor wardens should be instructed to terminate the calls of ANY agent who is still talking after the evacuation alarm is sounded, and/or log them out.

Make your evacuation alarms LOUD, so loud that you cannot hear the caller even with a headset on. Your fire Alarm installer should be able to assist here. The object is to drive people out of the centre with the sound of the alarm. Once people are moving, evacuation should take place easily.

If you want to get really tricky, have an automatic shutdown on your computer system and call centre when the alarm sounds. Some Computer Servers with UPS systems allow the UPS to shut down the computer if the power is about to fail. Some computer software also allows PC’s to be shut down or started up remotely. Other software allow workstations to be locked out remotely too. If the computer system doesn’t work people are more likely to evacuate.

While these actions may sound drastic and heavy handed. You probably only need to do it once and people wil realise you are deadly serious. And that is what it is all about – saving lives.