How will Covid-19 change the way we do fire drills?
In my opinion, not at all.
There are many other situations for which prolonged close contact is much more likely. In addition, outdoor activities have a lower risk for COVID exposure.
Lockdown drills, on the other hand… I could theoretically see those being temporarily suspended - especially due to the anxiety that COVID has caused.
However, the thing I’m REALLY wondering about is fire alarm testing and maintenance in hospitals and long-term care facilities - they might not want technicians entering every single room!
I agree that by and large fire drill procedures shouldn’t have to be substantially modified to comply with COVID social distancing requirements. Certain buildings may opt to change evacuation procedures to minimize close contact or implement staggered evacuations if a ton of people would normally evacuate from a single exit point (which of course isn’t great under normal circumstances, but plenty of older buildings lack proper emergency exits). More interesting will be that with many schools implementing a hybrid in-person/computer-based learning system there will need to be more drills held so that everyone is able to practice the procedures. When my school had to implement a hybrid system two years ago after a fire, two drills were held one day apart so that students attending in-person on both days could practice procedures. States/districts that opt to start the year with completely virtual learning would probably have some requirements for drills relaxed simply because there would be less in-person instruction days over the course of a year. So as an example, maybe if the state requires ten drills a year but the first three months of school are online the state modifies the requirement to only require seven this year. Those are pretty much the only changes that I see happening.
As far as I know, the state has been pretty lenient for schools not practicing fire drills due to online schooling. I’m not sure how hybrid schools seem to approach it (couldn’t pull up any records for hybrid schools in Georgia), but I wouldn’t be surprised if they took a two-day drill approach given they report the student numbers accurately on both days.
I don’t think it will affect the way fire drills are performed. From what I’ve heard, the majority of schools that are doing in-person instruction are doing it in a hybrid way where half the school does online instruction and the other half does in-person instruction each day. If anything, they’ll make you stand 6 feet apart in the attendance lines once you’re outside.
Of course, I cannot speak for all of the schools, but my admin has said that fire drills will still occur monthly along with tornado drills. We are unclear on plans for lockdown drills, but it is my guess that we will at least practice our August lockdown drill so that we can get an idea of how to lockdown in the future.
If you’re back in school, then drills will probably be as normal. If online, I sure hope they don’t make you run out of your own home!
From my experiences with fire drills in high school, the hallways become a sea of people - most definitely a bad thing in the midst of a COVID pandemic. It’s like passing period but could go on for several minutes more. Of course in a real fire emergency, the most pressing threat is the fire and not necessarily the pandemic. That’s not to say that the pandemic is no longer important, but when given the option between suffocating in toxic smoke and being more likely to contract COVID when you’re packed close together for five to six minutes, I’d gladly take the latter.
Persons should consider their own risk in determining whether to visit a public place.
Please note that:
- Nothing in this post should be construed as an attempt to offer or render a medical opinion or otherwise engage in the practice of medicine. Always consult a qualified medical professional for medical advice.
- An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. No precautions can eliminate the risk of exposure to COVID-19, and the risk of exposure applies to everyone.
- Fire alarms are serious and should not be ignored. If you’re concerned about being exposed to COVID-19, other approaches are both safer and have fewer side-effects. See below for more details.
If it makes you feel better, here are some things you could consider doing in the event of a fire alarm…
- Leave before or after the rest of the crowd does.
- Go out the closest emergency exit, as opposed to going back to the main entrance.
For building managers, however, there is something of significance here.
In many large buildings, fire alarm activations will cause the HVAC (ventilation) to shut down or be affected.
In some cases, HVAC equipment may need to be reactivated separately after resetting the fire alarm system.
Building managers should make sure to promptly reset the FACP after any alarm, and, if applicable, reset all HVAC equipment that requires a manual reset.
Building managers should also make sure any staff that are authorized to reset the FACP are aware of all HVAC equipment that requires a manual reset, and the procedures for resetting said equipment.
In jurisdictions where the fire department resets the FACP on their own, proper signage should be posted at the FACP, as appropriate. (e.g. “After resetting the FACP, please reset the shunt-trip breakers for all HVAC units in the 1st Floor Mechanical Room”.)
As a senior in high school currently, the way we are doing fire drills (at least our district) is that each Cohort (A and B) will have their own fire drill in the same month, so twice a month instead of once. This would also apply to lockout drills and possibly lockdown drills, too. We also practice earthquake drills in anticipation for the Cascadia earthquake, which has a 1/3 chance of happening in the next 50 years.
My school has been not so great about fire drills during COVID-19. We haven’t performed any actual evacuation drills and have only performed basic analysis. The school does not conduct a fire drill as a whole but instead requires each second block class to do it once during the semester. Most teachers make the students line up at the door and then go over what we do after that, and then sit back down. We haven’t had an actual legitimate fire drill in some time.
Is this even up to regulation?