Steps to Evacuate a Building in the Event of a Fire

Steps to Evacuate a Building in the Event of a Fire

The number of tall buildings and skyscrapers being constructed are on the rise as city planners are looking upward to make more living space for the ever-growing population. Living in a tall building is great as it offers breathtaking views, security and a few other things, but it is difficult to get out of in the event of an emergency. This means that the higher you are, the longer it will take you to evacuate. 

A few years back, 17 people died in a high-rise apartment fire in West London. Glenn Corbett, an associate professor of fire science said that so many lives won’t have been lost if the building had a sprinkler systemOpens in a new tab.. It is sad to know that many tall buildings in the UK and US don’t have sprinkler systems that can potentially put out a small fire before it grows larger and spread. Even if you live in a fancy skyscraper that has a working sprinkler system (and how to maintain itOpens in a new tab.), it is still a good idea to learn how to ensure the safety of your family in the event of a fire. This means knowing when to escape or flee to safety and when to sit tight and wait for help to come. 

 Contrary to popular belief, trying to get out of a tall burning building, in the event of a fire isn’t always the best course of action. A few years back, in Manhattan, a man died while trying to escape a fire in a tall apartment building. What makes the event even more tragic is that he would have survived if only he had remained in his apartmentOpens in a new tab.

While many old tall buildings lack fire suppressing systemsOpens in a new tab., new and modern skyscrapers are designed to contain a fire. If you live in one, you must resist the urge to flee when you smell smoke or hear a fire alarmOpens in a new tab. except fire personnel says otherwise. 

In this article, we are going to be looking at some strategic steps to evacuating a tall building when it is safe to do so. We are also going to be looking at some steps you should take if you are trapped or it is impossible for you to get out. 

Before we dive right into that, we are first going to be looking at why it is difficult to get out of a tall building in the event of a fire. 

Why it is difficult to evacuate a tall building 

Getting out of a regular building on fire is somewhat easy, especially when compared with evacuating a skyscraperOpens in a new tab., as there are multiple escape routes (Doors and windows). Getting out of a tall building or skyscraper, on the other hand, is somewhat complicated, and for good reasons.

Unlike regular buildings, Skyscrapers house more people, so there is a higher chance of a stampede or accidents. Also, the elevator may not be working especially during emergencies. Even more, there are a limited number of vertical escape routes. These factors and a few others make it difficult for people to get out quickly. 

When to stay put 

As previously mentioned, trying to get out of a tall building isn’t always the best options as the stairways could be clouded with smoke. Also, taking the elevator may not be a good idea as the fire may cause a mechanical or power failure in the building. (The fire in the building will be the least of your problems if you are trapped inside the elevator). The only people that need to evacuate are those on the floor of the fire. So, if your floor is safe, stay put until the fire burns itself out. 

Most fire suppressing strategies don’t work in a high rise building because firefighters can’t get enough water pressure to effectively put out the fire. This is why tall buildings and skyscrapers are built with fire-resistant materials, having self-closing fire-resistant doors that are specifically designed to keep flames from spreading. Some even have automatic sprinklersOpens in a new tab. that help suppress and put out small fires. 

Steps to evacuate 

Skyscrapers fire-design has changed significantly since 9/11. Seeing a skyscraper crumble and so many lives lost got experts thinking about evacuation procedures in extreme situations. Shortly after 9/11, the (NIST) National Institute of Standard and Technology, gave new recommendationsOpens in a new tab., a good number of them focused on an improved design for evacuation, like extra stairwells, impact resistant walls, and glow in dark stairwells.

Any tall building should be evacuated in sections, as it prevents overcrowding in the stairwell. Some high-rise buildings have multiple stairs that occupants at different levels could use to quickly exit the building without any hindrance. 

Most evacuation planOpens in a new tab. involves occupants moving quickly to a level or floor that is easy to reach but below the fire. For example, if there is a fire on the 20th floor and you are on the 22nd floor, you may be moved to the 16th floor to wait for further instructions. 

Arrangements should be made to relay potentially life-saving information to every occupant in real time. An announcement should be made with these instructions after the fire alarmOpens in a new tab.. If for some reasons an announcement isn’t possible all resident should be abreast with the steps they should take in the event of a fireOpens in a new tab. way in advance. Every high-rise building should have at least two concrete evacuation plans in the event of a fire emergency. 

How to prepare for an evacuation 

If you live in a tall building, it is important that you understand the basics of escape planning. Before following the instructions to evacuate the building, you first have to leave your room safely. You should know at least, two ways to leave your apartment quickly in the event of a fire. If smoke is present, you must stay low and slowly navigate to any of the exits. 


Whether you stay in the 2nd or the 25th level, it is important that you practice how you would respond in an emergency. If you practice frequently, you will know exactly what to do or steps to take to get out quickly. And even if an unexpected event was to come up, you will be able to troubleshoot it with ease. Don’t forget to practice moving low under the smoke to the closest exit. 

Stay safe while evacuating. 

Evacuating a tall building quickly and safely is an age-old problem that a lot of safety experts have been giving serious thought to. New research is uncovering interesting strategiesOpens in a new tab. and methods of building evacuation such as fire-only elevators in skyscrapers and high-rise buildings. 

In the main time, it is critical that you learn as much as you can about what is recommended for your building. Knowing when to stay put and when to flee to safety will go a long way in ensuring your safety. 

Be familiar with your building’s evacuation plan, carry out regular fire evacuation drillsOpens in a new tab., and figure out a safe location to run to, way in advance. Do well to practice your evacuation plan frequently so that you won’t be confused or start panicking when a disaster strikes. 

Getting out safely 

The following are some effective escape techniques that can help get more people out of a tall building in less time while ensuring safety. 

Evacuate in phases 

Assuming the structural integrity of a tall building is exceptional and it has a working fire suppressing systemOpens in a new tab., it may not be necessary for everybody to get out, in the event of a fire. As previously mentioned, it is only critical for people in the level or floor of the fire to escape to safety. Every other people can stay put unless instructed to do otherwise. 

Use elevators 

If there is an elevator in your building you probably must have seen a bold caption outside the elevator encouraging users to use the stairs when there is a fire. Depending on the circumstances, you may have to do otherwise. In response to the 9/11 attacks, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) made some changes in 2012. The reason for the change was linked to the fact that 3000 people were able to escape through the elevator in the south tower shortly after the north tower was hit. 

 Pressurize the stairwells 

It is easy to conclude that installing more stairwells or making them wider is the best way to for people to evacuate to safety quickly. While that might be true, you need to keep in mind that it will be impossible for anyone to escape if the stairs are filled with smoke. Keeping smoke out of the stairwells should be the number one priority of safety expert. Presently, there are a couple of strategies to prevent smoke from entering the stairwells but the most effective is a pressurization systemOpens in a new tab.. With it, you will be able to keep the stairwells at a higher pressure than other areas. This will discourage smoke from creeping into the stairwells.  

Final note 

With frequent practice and following clear instruction on what to do in the event of a fireOpens in a new tab., evacuating from a tall building can drastically reduce from an hour or more to 30 minutes. That time could be reduced further if occupants are permitted to use the elevator. Of course, this may require extra protection as smoke can easily creep into unguarded elevators and suffocate elevator passengers. 

The bottom line is that technical innovations will only matter if occupants know what to do- and that is to read and follow the evacuation procedure in the building.  

Take 2 mins on this important reading of what to do if the fire hazard around the homeOpens in a new tab..

Recent Content