Is Your Emergency Signage Sending the Right Message?


Do your occupants know where to go during an emergency? A Facility Manager  who deals with the ins and outs of a building every day may know where every path leads and every exit ends up, but an employee who works only in one area of the building or a visitor who just happens to be in your facility when an emergency hits likely has no clue.

Protect them from harm and yourself from liability by making sure your emergency signage is accurate, current, and plentiful.

In an emergency, someone unfamiliar with your building will likely look for the familiar lit exit sign first. NFPA 101, the National Fire Protection Association’s consensus standard that governs life safety, requires either an internally illuminated sign wired into your emergency power source or a sign that’s either electroluminescent (doesn’t use light bulbs, but still requires power to operate) or self-luminous (relies on a contained illumination source that doesn’t need electricity). Paper signs and arrows won’t cut it – NFPA 101 requires a minimum level of visibility and illumination.

The code also requires doors, passages and stairways that are likely to be mistaken for exits but don’t offer access to the outside to be identified with “No Exit” signs

Remember to ensure any additional signage complies with ADA requirements, which include raised characters and braille, non-glare finish and high contrast for visual characters and pictograms, and international symbols to indicate certain kinds of accommodations. The guidelines mandate that tactile characters on signs are located at least 48 inches off the floor and that signs next to doors are posted alongside the door on the latch side. This ensures people with vision impairments know where to look for tactile signage they can read.

In addition to these basic requirements, additional mandates may apply to your facility depending on its unique exposures and risks, adds Donna Lynch, a senior consultant for Antea Group, an environment, health and safety management consulting firm.

“Not all facilities have an AED, but if they do, typically those have signage,” explains Lynch. “Not all facilities have hazardous chemicals, but if they do, there are regulatory requirements regarding signage for storage areas or places where those chemicals are used. Confined spaces also have separate signage requirements per OSHA. That’s related to emergency response – if you have a fire in a manufacturing facility, signage about where the oxygen and other compressed gases are stored would be very important not only to employees, but also any firefighters or emergency services coming on-site.”

Wall-mounted evacuation plans can be supplemented by – or even replaced with – paper versions that can serve as portable maps in case of emergency, notes Dr. Denise Walker, Chief Emergency Management Officer for Lone Star College in Houston. Make sure to check regularly that a map is on the wall at all times.

“Fire marshals today prefer something simple that occupants can snatch off of the wall. They can take it with them and follow the map to wherever they need to go,” explains Walker. “On that map, you need to show the locations of AED devices, other emergency-related devices, exits, and pathways to those exits, both primary and alternate. You also need to note a point of refuge for people who have impairments and need help evacuating. For example, would they go into a stairwell for that? If so, is there a phone at that landing to call for help?”

Whether static or dynamic, emergency signage must be decipherable by everyone who sees it – not just the employees working in your office every day, but also guests, customers, and people who might be in your building after hours

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