When a disaster strikes, it can come hard and fast, which makes it critical you've got a plan in place beforehand if you want to survive. If you spend any significant amount of time away from your home, perhaps in an office building or your school, it's important to know what to do if there's an emergency. Even a rough idea of a plan will help you get out of a bad situation as fast as possible.

Here's how to ensure you make it out alive.

Know the evacuation route

The smartest thing you can do when you enter any new building is to know the evacuation route. Of course, you're going to know how to get back to where you came in, but there will often be a fire escape or stairwell you can take to get to safety if this route is blocked. Often, these routes will be highlighted on a map that's next to the fire exit doors, underneath a neon EXIT sign. If I'm somewhere new, taking even just thirty seconds to orient myself with the escape routes is a smart move, because you just never know what may happen.

Have an evacuation kit handy

Having a go-to evacuation kit is something I recommend everyone setup. Mine doesn't take up a whole lot of space, and it's tucked in under my desk, out of sight but within easy reach if I ever need it. In my opinion, I'd much rather have the right items to get out of the building safely.

Here's what I've got in mine.

Flashlight. I'm not trusting the lights on the internal stairwell to work, so it's important to have another source of light if we do need to evacuate in the dark. It's completely internal, without a flashlight we'd be trying to navigate the stairs blind if the emergency power hasn't kicked in.

Whistle. In addition to the strobe feature on my, having a decent whistle is a good investment in your emergency kit. If you're trying to signal for help, or happen to get trapped inside the building, it can alert any first responders that you're still inside.

Crowbar. This got me a weird look when I first brought it in through security, but I told them it was to open a jammed cupboard and they waved me through. In a disaster, this is probably going to be your most valuable tool. To open jammed doors, break through internal glass walls, and help you break through any areas where the exits are blocked.

Work gloves. You don't want to be trying to clear debris, broken glass, and everything else with your bare hands, so invest in a decent pair of work gloves. They should be durable enough to protect your palms from injury, as you'll be no help to anybody if you get your hands injured.

Fire extinguisher. I've been told I'm overdoing it with this addition, but I've got a compact (car-sized) fire extinguisher prepared and ready in my evacuation kit. That way, if an exit is blocked or someone needs help, I can quickly douse the flames and get through. It's only a small one, but I see it as critical.

Dust mask. After years working construction, I can honestly tell you concrete dust sucks. It gets into everything, and you can be sure if there's any kind of damage to the build you won't want to be breathing it in. Buy a decent dust mask and keep it in your emergency kit.

Safety goggles. The last item on the list is to protect your eyes. If you're blinded by smoke, dust and debris you're not going to be of any help to anyone, so buy a good pair that have both an anti-fog coating, and form a tight seal around your face to protect against any smoke.

Don't waste time collecting anything more than your evacuation kit. I usually stick my everyday carry in here when I get to the office, so it's ready to grab and go in seconds. Take only what's within arm's reach, and start evacuating as fast as possible. You can replace belongings.

Follow a safe route to the exit

When a disaster hits you want to be getting out of the building as quickly as possible, but I'd also recommend knowing a few different escape routes. Of course, you're definitely going to want to avoid using anything mechanical, like the lifts, as these will easily fail in a fire or a power outage. You should also avoid trying to escape through makeshift areas, like through the kitchens, as these are filled with gas and cooking materials that could pose a bigger risk to your safety if they ignite.

It goes without saying that you should be collecting anyone along the way who has started to panic or shut down with fear. Pick them up, dust them off, and bring them along with you. They'll usually comply, but make sure that whatever you're doing to help them doesn't put you in danger. Your first priority is to get out of the building, and your family comes first. But that doesn't mean you need to push others out of the way as you evacuate. Be civil people.

Get clear of the building

Once you've made it to ground level and are safe from immediate danger, don't stop there. Depending on the situation, my advice is to get at least a couple of blocks away. The first stop though is if there's a designated meeting place. Stop by and make sure your colleagues know you've made it out alright, and what the next steps are. If there's any first responders like police or the fire department on the scene, check in with them and let them know if you, or anyone with you was injured during the evacuation. If you've got any insights on what's happening inside the building let the authorities know, then get well clear of the area.

Evacuating a building safely is all about being prepared in advance, so you can get clear fast. Having the right gear can help you speed up the escape process, and the best time to start getting this organized is right now. You never know when a real disaster will hit.

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