COOPI, GOAL, and AGERCA educate and prepare the population to evacuate from buildings in an emergency.
By Lara Palmisano
During a disaster many casualties happen in public buildings, such as schools, universities, churches, supermarkets, hotels, and offices. For example, during the January 12, 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Hotel Montana, the popular Caribbean supermarket, and the Cathedral of Port au Prince all collapsed killing the majority of people inside.
For the most part, lives are lost because people are unaware of the basic precautions they should take when in a public space in an emergency. For example, when in a panic people won’t know where to go if the emergency exits are not well marked.
Emergency and evacuation plans are so important because they serve to guide the public to safety. To clarify, an emergency plan is a set of procedures that serve to protect people in the building and that are operationalized during a crisis. An evacuation plan informs people as to the paths to take in case of evacuation and also communicates other key information, such as the contact numbers for the fire department, the police, and the Red Cross. Despite the high vulnerability to disasters, emergency and evacuation plans are not mandatory in Haiti.
As part of the project “Strengthening capacity to prepare, mitigate, and respond to disasters in vulnerable urban communities” funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), International NGOs COOPI and GOAL are working to ensure the development and utilization of emergency and evacuation plans for community infrastructures to improve preparedness (and therefore mitigate loss of life) in case of a disaster. The project also works in collaboration with AGERCA, a network of Haitian businesses that focuses on engaging private companies in activities of disaster risk reduction (DRR).
“Every infrastructure has its own specific characteristics and problems that depend upon various factors, such as the type of building (whether it’s a hotel, church, school, factory, etc.), the number of people to evacuate, and whether there are special risks (chemicals, fuels, etc.). It is therefore necessary to think on its specificity in order to find the best solutions for the evacuation,” says Benoit Gladymir, COOPI’s Engineer for the project.
Most of the buildings in Haiti do not have blueprints. Engineers for the project, such a Gladymir, create a building plan, they identify risk areas and also what more is needed to better prepare for an emergency (such as alarm buttons, emergency preparedness kits, fire extinguishers, etc.). The emergency plans, once developed, are then prominently and visibly posted in strategic places throughout the building. Through the project, these types of activities have already been completed for members of the development community, including ECHO and NGOs Better Work and Oxfam; and for private companies such as BRANA S.A. and Enmarcolda.
The main objective of the project is to institutionalize emergency and evacuation plans and render them compulsory in order to protect the greatest number of people possible when emergency strikes. To realize this goal, COOPI, GOAL, and AGERCA work in collaboration with Haitian authorities, including the Department of Civil Protection.
In addition to emergency and evacuation plans, evacuation drills are also key elements of emergency preparedness. Each public space, be it a private business, church, school, etc. has a responsibility to complete at least two evacuation drills per year. These drills are done in collaboration with supporting agencies, such as the Haitian Red Cross, the police, AGERCA, and the Department of Civil Protection, and are designed to test and assure the knowledge and understanding of emergency and evacuation procedures.
As stated by Benoit, “The implementation of emergency and evacuation plans offer many benefits to the whole of Haitian society as they help created a safer environment for both employees and customers. In addition, achieving international standards in emergency preparedness also strengthens the institution’s legitimacy.”