Counter-terrorism: Emergency Evacuation Guidance Due Soon

"Oklahoma City, the World Trade Center (WTC), the Pentagon, and anthrax were all attacks on U.S. worksites," said John Ferris, OSHA's special assistant for emergency preparedness. Although he has no budget or staff, Ferris reports directly to OSHA administrator John Henshaw and leads the agency's efforts to prepare for future terrorist attacks.

"The best way to view OSHA's role is to look back at these earlier attacks, and to think in terms of workplace preparedness," commented Ferris. "OSHA's directorate of enforcement programs is working on a matrix for evacuation programs."

Businesses may or not be subject to a particular standard requiring an evacuation plan, according to Ferris. "But regardless, it's a good idea to have such a plan, and that's the guidance we're focusing on right now." The plan will include both evacuation and shelter-in-place components, and it is due out soon, he added.

Ferris said OSHA is working on three different levels with respect to emergency preparedness. One level concerns all worksites, a second is focused on emergency responders, and the third concerns preparing a national emergency management plan.

The agency is taking a technical assistance role with emergency responders. The agency is working with different regions, state plan states, and various emergency response organizations to co-ordinate a national emergency management plan, Ferris said.

Asked what the agency learned from its work at the WTC, Ferris replied, "We learned that taking a team approach has its benefits."

He is following the respiratory problems afflicting many New York City firefighters, but Ferris had no comment on that or OSHA's suspension of enforcement activity during rescue and clean up at the site.

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