Create a Work Evacuation Kit

As Dolly Parton sings, many of us spend Monday-Friday “workin’ 9 to 5.” And while you may have a disaster plan for your home…what about your office building?

Kits Happen!

So…what do you take with you? Here’s a top 10 list of what to take if you’re forced to evacuate your office, courtesy of our two Salt Lake City experts - see thier advice after the list:

  1. An emergency contact list. “If someone comes upon you during a disaster and you’re not very coherent,” Murphy says, “they’ll look at this list to find out who they should call.” Keep a list of emergency contacts in your kit to assist medical personnel if you’re injured. Print out our handy WHN Emergency Contact List (PDF) for assistance.

    WHN TIP: Update Your Contacts

    Make sure your work has at least five different ways to contact you - think friends, family, cell phone, landline, extra email address. Be sure to update your emergency contact info if you've just moved or changed numbers.
    - Jon Toigo, disaster recovery and preparedness consultant with Office Depot
  2. Cell phone. “Your cell phone may or may not work during a natural disaster,” Murphy says, “but it’s always a good idea to bring it with you in case you need it.” Also, be sure to keep an emergency list of contacts in your cell phone: see our ICE article for more information.
  3. Enough food to last you a day or two. Anderton and Murphy both recommend items like PowerBars or wafer cookies that don’t take up much space, but will help you feel full if you’re forced to wait for emergency personnel.
  4. A water bottle with at least sixteen ounces of water.
  5. Sensible shoes. “Assume that you may have to walk [after being evacuated],” Murphy says, “and you don’t know what the weather will be like.” If you wear dress shoes to work, keep a pair of walking shoes in your bag. Otherwise, as Anderton says, “you can only imagine the pain of running down 22 flights of stairs in stilettos.” (And what if you had to walk home after that?)
  6. Any medications or prescriptions that you are currently taking, including contact lenses, eyeglasses, and other health necessities.
  7. A small amount of cash, including both change and small bills. In case you’re unable to get to your car, you’ll need this money for a bus, light rail, or subway ride home--and if electricity is out, ATMs won’t work.
  8. A flashlight, an item that Murphy calls “one of the top pieces of an emergency kit to make people feel safe.” Aside from the psychological benefit of not being trapped in the dark, Murphy says, a flashlight is also “a signal for people to locate you.”
  9. An emergency blanket. Murphy recommends buying a lightweight thermal blanket (sold at most recreational or camping stores) that rolls up easily into a small bag.
  10. A travel-size first-aid kit with basics such as Band-Aids, antiseptic wipes, and aspirin. According to Anderton, “employees need to be their own first responders” in disaster situations by having basic first-aid supplies available.

Note: If you store your “go kit” under your desk, be sure there’s still enough room for you to fit underneath your desk if you need to take cover. Murphy says that, at minimum, you should have enough room to duck your head and upper body underneath your desk. Keep your “go kit” simple enough to fit in a small backpack or fanny pack.

WHN TIP: Extra Time? Back Up Your Data

Back up your data on your work computer. Use a DVD/CD, flash drive or an external hard drive. Keep a copy of your information off-site just in case.
- Jon Toigo, disaster recovery and preparedness consultant with Office Depot

WHN TIP: Safe Room Safety

Tornado or severe weather warning issued while at work? Always stay away from rooms without windows. Stay away from unsecured items like big vending machines and ceiling light fixtures.
- Rick Tobin, TAO Emergency Management Consultant

Yes, We Evacuated Our Offices

Salt Lake City, Utah takes workplace readiness very seriously. A couple of years ago, (4/27/07) firemen, policemen, building owners and other first responders conducted a mass evacuation drill for two of Salt Lake’s largest downtown office buildings. Assigned “floor wardens,” distinguished by fluorescent vests and neon flags, herded over 2,000 employees from the 24-story corporate high-rises to designated “assembly points” near Salt Lake’s One Utah Center.

According to Bob Anderton, board member of Salt Lake’s BOMA (Building Owners & Managers Association) and director of the evacuation drill, employees were encouraged to view the drill as a “practice run” for a true emergency.

In addition to practice drills, Renee Murphy, project manager for the Utah Department of Homeland Security, urges employees to create a “go kit” in the event of an emergency. A “go kit” is a collection of basic essentials that should be small enough to be stored under your desk and light enough to carry if you’re forced to walk a significant distance.

“Whether it’s a backpack or a tote bag,” Murphy says, “you should have something that you’re able to ‘grab and go’ during an office evacuation.”

  • Office Depot has a great preparedness guide for small business written by Jon Toigo and other experts in the field. Read it here.

    Reviewed 7/2009