Tips From Fire Protection Experts: How To Create Safe Evacuation Plans

A well-executed evacuation plan starts with a well-planned design. Safety precautions cannot be an afterthought. So, implementing safe evacuation plans and protection early in the design process can not only save lives, but it can also save the time and stress of trying to redesign a non-compliant building down the line.

Smoke Guard consultant smoke and fire protection expert Alex Kline, PE and Registered FPE in NC, OH, SC, works with architects and building designers to make sure their buildings are code compliant and as safe as possible for occupants. He has several safety tips and solutions to consider when planning evacuation routes.

Common Issues and Obstacles

As a safety expert, Kline has had to find creative solutions for a number of safety issues that could have been prevented. Here are a few of his tips to avoid common mistakes or obstacles:

Know the Codes

Before you even start designing your building, it is important to know the safety codes and requirements in place. This varies from region to region, and every project will have its own unique set of needs.

Make sure you understand the number of exits and stairwells needed, the limitations on travel distance to those exits, building occupancy, door widths and the type of fire safety systems that will be put in place like smoke detectors, sprinklers or fire curtains.

It is important to know the codes from the beginning and design to the code limitations. Aesthetics, floor space, budget and time can all be impacted if the building is not initially designed to fire safety codes.

Don’t Underestimate

Some of the codes may be a surprise. An architect could design a space with the intention of only having a certain amount of people in the room. But the building code may overestimate the capacity, sometimes even doubling the anticipated occupancy, to be on the safe side.

A building designed around the anticipated capacity may not have enough stairwells or exits to fulfill code requirements that work on an overestimated capacity, which then creates the issue of having to add these in late in the design process and could alter the aesthetics or eat into the floor plan.

Wall Types

It is also important to know the types of walls that will be used. Some buildings may have walls that serve a special purpose, such as a fire-rated wall, a smoke wall or walls surrounding storage and utility rooms, that need to be more robust and protective.

All types of rated walls that need to be built a certain way or have specific doors that meet certain criteria must be marked and detailed in the blueprints.

It’s All in the Details

It is important to be as detailed as possible. Be sure to include information like occupant capacity, travel distances to exits and door widths. The more annotation the better, so checking for code compliance is a quick and smooth process.

Safety Solutions

There are several ways to make sure a building is fire code compliant. Here are just a few of the most common smoke and fire protection options:

Additional Exits and Stairwells

One mistake Kline commonly sees is not enough stairwells and exits for the occupant capacity. This is often due to underestimating the requirements based on the number of people anticipated to be in the building instead of what the code actually calls for.

Other factors like travel distance could also be a determining factor in how many stairwells and exits there need to be.

Adding these in late can ruin your building’s design, and these changes can also mean a longer compliance approval process. It is important to make sure the evacuation plan is integrated into the design early on to avoid these costly mistakes.

Alarms and Sprinkler Systems

Emergency alarm systems are one of the most basic and necessary safety components of a building. This is what will alert occupants that they need to get to safety.

It is important to know how many detectors and alarms are needed depending on the building’s size and layout. It is also important to have both auditory and visual systems in place, so more people can evacuate quickly.

Sprinkler systems are also a standard safety feature in most commercial applications. These will work to contain or extinguish a fire threat and can prevent it from consuming the whole building or causing significant damage.

Fire and Smoke Curtains


Smoke detectors are a great warning system, but they don’t put out or contain fire or smoke. Sprinkler systems can extinguish a fire, but they can’t keep smoke from spreading through the building which can be disorienting and dangerous for occupants trying to evacuate.

Fire and smoke curtains deploy automatically to block off at-risk areas and keep smoke from traveling throughout the building. They keep fire and/or smoke contained and create a safe evacuation route.

Smoke and fire curtains need to be implemented correctly and strategically into the building plans. When implemented properly, these curtains are a great method for fire and smoke control that create efficient and effective escape routes, which is why they are quickly becoming a standard safety feature in building plans.

They also can be incorporated seamlessly into the design, so that when they are not deployed, they’re virtually invisible. They provide an extra level of smoke and fire protection without any sacrifice to aesthetics.

Know When to Seek Out Help


Kline says it is best to seek out advice from a specialist early on in the design process to identify any unique issues and prevent any mistakes that may lead to costly changes down the line.

An expert can even help communicate with the city on the designer’s behalf to get certain safety features approved. They can also write and propose alternatives that demonstrate compliance in a way architects may not have thought of.

Get in contact with one of Smoke Guard’s experts today to make sure your building project is code compliant and safe for all occupants.