Interior of a building showing stairwell door, fire alarm, and fire extinguisher.

Tenant Safety Handbook


When proper procedures are followed, emergency situations can be controlled with little or no disruption to your normal workday.

This page provides you with the information needed to effectively react to emergency situations in your facility. It also explains how to eliminate fire hazards, conduct evacuations and handle medical emergencies.

This page addresses such questions as:

  • What a Tenant Safety Organization is and how this organization can help.
  • What steps to follow in the event of an evacuation.
  • Why a facility sometimes has only a partial evacuation.
  • What to do for disabled employees working in a facility and/or visitors present during an evacuation.
  • What steps to follow to eliminate fire hazards.
  • What to do in the event of a bomb threat.

It is nearly impossible to anticipate all situations that may arise during an emergency. For this reason, the application of the contents of this booklet will not, at all times, suffice. If you have any questions about potential emergency situations not covered in this page, you should contact your Facility/Building Manager's Office or the proper emergency services organization for guidance.

Tenant Safety Organization

Every building has a Tenant Safety Organization comprised of a group of employees who have volunteered and have had special training to assist you and visitors during an emergency evacuation. Each Tenant Safety Organization typically contains the following members:

  • Facility/Building Manager: The OGS employee responsible for site management of an individual OGS-managed/operated building, or a series of buildings within a complex.

  • Agency Control Director: A tenant agency employee who is appointed by their agency to act as a liaison with the OGS Facility Manager if applicable, and/or Department of State's Office of Fire Prevention and Control, State Police Fire Prevention Unit (Albany Only); directs the Agency's Tenant Safety Organization; and is authorized by their agency to direct all tenant agency employees to follow his/her decisions, recommendations, or instruction in an emergency.

  • Floor Marshals: Tenant agency employees who serve voluntarily as the leading emergency response representatives for a floor of a multi-floor building, or an area of significant size in a single or multi-floor building; responsible for verification of safety of evacuation/escape route(s) selected and the coordination of assistance to the disabled; reports to the Agency Control Director.
  • Floor Wardens: Tenant agency employees who serve voluntarily to assist the Floor Marshal in the evacuation of an assigned area; ensures selected escape routes and stairwells are safe and that evacuee traffic keeps flowing along these routes; ascertains that disabled employees/visitors are being assisted by designated personnel to elevator or lobby to await pickup - if elevators are unusable, directs disabled and their designated aides to nearest safe stairwell; ascertains that floor has been cleared, reports status to Floor Marshal and proceeds to assembly floor; directs evacuees away from stairwells into office areas on assembly floor.

  • Floor Searchers: Tenant agency employees who serve voluntarily to assist the Floor Marshal and Floor Wardens in ensuring the complete evacuation of an assigned area, including restrooms and special use facilities; provides escort to disabled employees during evacuations; reports to a designated Floor Warden.

What is the purpose of a Tenant Safety Organization?

The Tenant Safety Organization assists in the orderly evacuation of employees and visitors during regularly scheduled fire drills and actual evacuations. In the event of an actual emergency, these volunteers are a vital, lifesaving link between those who occupy OGS managed State facilities and the fire safety personnel.

It is important to remember that the Tenant Safety Organization is set up for the sole purpose of ensuring a safe and orderly evacuation of all employees and visitors in the event of an emergency. A member of the tenant safety organization should never attempt to fight fires or search for bombs.

Fire Safety

In the Event of a Fire

It is important to remember that your cooperation is essential to maintain a safe, well-protected work environment. You can aid in the prevention of fires and accidents - or at least minimize their effect - by practicing proper safety and evacuation procedures. This is not intended to alarm you or to imply that your office building is not safe.

The NYS Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Code is applied to each building owned or leased by New York State. Nevertheless, fires and accidents may occur and you should be prepared to act accordingly.

In the event of a fire if you see a fire or smoke, evacuate the area immediately. Report the situation to the police or fire department. If you are in an area that is free of smoke, use the phone. Give the police or fire dispatcher a clear statement of what is burning (if you know). Identify the exact location of the fire by building, floor, room or section number. If your personal safety is at risk, pull the nearest fire alarm or call on an office phone in a safe area. Some buildings have emergency phones to the police/fire personnel. Learn their locations before an emergency occurs.

You Are Not Expected to Fight Fires! A modern office contains many natural and synthetic compounds such as wood, paper, plastic, rubber and wool which produce harmful gases and fumes when they burn. In case of a serious fire, do not delay initiating an evacuation of the area before contacting the police/fire officials for your facility. Do not attempt to use a fire extinguisher unless you know how.

How to Prevent Fires in Your Office

Most fire hazards result from poor housekeeping. Often, the employees responsible for maintaining a work area are not even aware that a hazard exists. There may be a misplaced room divider blocking entry to a fire corridor or a disorderly storage area containing a large amount of combustible material. Your cooperation in identifying, reporting and/or eliminating hazards is critical to successful fire and accident prevention.

In addition to participating in evacuation drills, you can improve the safety of your building by following these housekeeping rules:

  • Discard unnecessary files, excess paper, and combustible material.
  • Keep all work areas, corridors, and aisles clear of files, boxes, telephone, and electrical wires, and other articles that could cause accidents or that could interfere with an orderly evacuation.
  • Avoid using extension cords. If you must use extension cords be sure they are U.L. APPROVED, are of proper gauge (wire size), are rated for the equipment to be used, have a ground wire, and are not overloaded. Extension cords should never be used as a substitute for permanent electrical outlets. It is strongly suggested that a single power strip is used with an integral circuit breaker or fuse.
  • In buildings with automatic sprinklers, be sure that stacked materials in storage areas are at least 18 inches (457 mm) below sprinkler head deflectors. In places without automatic sprinkler systems be sure that stored materials are at least 24 inches (610 mm) or more below the ceiling.

Storing of Flammable Liquids: Some liquids used in modern offices may be highly flammable and if not stored properly present a serious fire hazard. These liquids include but are not limited to, duplicating machine fluid, acetone, alcohol, and cleaning solvents. Whenever you find that your office is using flammable liquids, follow the manufacturer's recommendations of precautions to ensure your safety.

Areas With High Concentration of Combustible Materials: Work locations with large amounts of combustible material (material that burns easily) require special safety precautions. Both supervisors and employees must cooperate to ensure that proper housekeeping practices are maintained in these areas. If your work area has a high concentration of combustible materials, follow these guidelines:

  • Limit stored paper supplies to the minimum amount required for efficient office operations.
  • Prominently display "NO SMOKING" signs near all combustible materials and wherever large amounts of supplies, files, or refuse are stored.
  • Keep storage areas/rooms neat and clean.

Fire Extinguishers: In accordance with state and local building code requirements, portable fire extinguishers are available in all State-owned/leased buildings. However, fire extinguishers must not create a false sense of security. Employees are not expected to fight fires using these extinguishers, nor should they delay reporting a fire by attempting to use these extinguishers.

Fire extinguishers are designed for small fires and must be properly matched to the type of fire in order to be effective. Most fire extinguishers contain 30 to 60 seconds of firefighting material. If they are not used properly, or if their use causes a delay in reporting a fire, they could do more harm than good. Unless you are familiar with the proper use of your building's portable fire extinguisher, your safest action is to report the fire and evacuate the floor.

Building Evacuations

An emergency evacuation of your building is the best possible protection against fires and/or bomb threats. Fire drills are an important part of the fire protection system. They help determine if all employees can be swiftly evacuated and that proper procedures exist to assist the disabled in the event of an emergency evacuation. All employees are expected to participate in an evacuation, whether it is being conducted as a drill or is an actual emergency. When the fire alarm sounds, you must proceed as follows:

  • Terminate all telephone conversation.
  • Close all desk and file cabinet drawers.
  • Close all doors behind you and leave the lights on.
  • Take valuables and coats with you if they are readily available and will not delay your evacuation. Do not return for them.
  • Ensure that all visitors are evacuated.
  • Move to the emergency stairwells for evacuation.

Do not linger, smoke or carry beverages in stairwells. All of these can cause accidents and needless injuries. Also, remember to keep conversation to a minimum since this could interfere with follow-up instructions provided through the public address system or by members of your Tenant Safety Organization.

When you arrive at the assembly area, move completely away from the exit door. This is important as it will alleviate bottlenecks and avoid delays for those employees still in the stairwells. Most of all remain calm and follow instructions.

Assembly Area: During an evacuation, you will leave your workstation and proceed to a designated assembly area. The location of this assembly area will depend on your workstation and the type of evacuation ordered. You may be evacuated to a lower floor, to an adjacent area, or from the building. It is important that you proceed to your designated assembly place as directed by police and/or fire officials or the members of the Tenant Safety Organization.

Partial Versus Total Evacuation: The extent of an evacuation will depend on the nature of the emergency and the type of building affected by it. In some high-rise buildings, partial evacuations are necessary to evacuate those individuals closest to the emergency and to prevent congestion in the stairwells. Partial evacuations are utilized when the evacuation of several floors is sufficient to protect tenants while the hazard is being eliminated. In similar structures, total evacuations may be necessary.

During fire drills, a total evacuation gives all employees experience in leaving their workstations and proceeding to the outside through emergency exits. However, in high-rise buildings, there is substantial risk involved in moving a large number of tenants at one time. Therefore, in such cases, only a few floors may be evacuated at a time. Partial evacuations are an effective method of evacuating those areas that are nearest the hazard.

Disabled Employees: Each Facility Safety Plan includes procedures to evacuate disabled employees. These procedures apply to both permanent and temporary disabilities.

Who is considered disabled? In addition to those employees with visible physical limitations, the term "disabled" includes anyone who feels they are unable to climb or descend stairs. This includes but is not limited to employees with heart problems, back and/or respiratory conditions. Women in the later stages of pregnancy may, at their discretion, also be included in this category.

Disabled employees should inform their floor marshal or warden that they will require assistance during an evacuation. The floor marshal should then incorporate this information in the Facility Safety Plan. In most instances during an evacuation, designated personnel will escort disabled employees to elevators which are operated by the emergency service personnel. If the elevators are inoperable, the disabled employee(s) will be brought to safety through the emergency stairwell. If you are not sure of the procedure to follow in your area, ask your Facility Manager for a copy of the Facility Safety Plan.

Visitors: All visitors are to be evacuated in event of a fire drill or an emergency. During an evacuation, direct visitors to the appropriate emergency exit and/or escort them to your assembly area. If a visitor is disabled, notify the floor marshal or warden that there is a disabled person in need of evacuation. You must then report directly to your assembly area.

Exit Stairwells: Always use the exit stairwells in your building to evacuate. These stairwells are specifically designed with fire-rated walls and self-closing doors to keep out smoke and flames and are considered safe in the event of a fire. Once inside the exit stairwell, you are protected until you exit the building.

Doors to exit stairwells must be kept closed unless a person is entering or leaving. Do not, at any time, wedge or tie these fire doors open. Doing so can lead to tragedy. For the general safety of all building occupants, always close the fire and emergency exit doors behind you.

Elevators: Never use an elevator to evacuate a building unless instructed to do so by emergency service personnel. Studies have shown that many deaths from fire in high-rise buildings are related to elevators. Shafts can fill with smoke and heat; the elevator can become damaged and STOP between floors; elevators which are equipped with heat-sensitive controls may automatically go to the fire floor.

During a fire or emergency evacuation, elevators, when available, will be used to evacuate disabled employees and visitors. Elevator controls will be manually operated by emergency service personnel and will not respond to calls from tenant areas.

In most buildings, if you are in an elevator which has been placed on fireman service, the car will descend directly to the main floor or lobby. When the elevator reaches the main level, you must leave the car immediately and follow the instructions of the emergency service personnel.

Bomb Threats

All bomb threats must be reported immediately to the police and your supervisor. If the bomb threat is received by telephone, try to get as much information from the caller as possible:

  • Write down the exact words used by the caller.
  • Write down the exact time the call was received.
  • Was the caller male or female?
  • Did the caller sound young or old?
  • Try to find out the location of the bomb.
  • Try to find out when the bomb is scheduled to go off.
  • Write down a description of any background noise.

All of this information is important to assist the police in determining if the threat is real or just harassment. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO SEARCH FOR A BOMB. If you see a suspicious object, DO NOT TOUCH IT. Warn other employees to avoid the area and let the proper authorities investigate.

Medical Emergency

If an employee has an accident or becomes seriously ill, follow this procedure:

  • Do not move the employee.
  • Call the appropriate emergency organization. Depending on your location, this could be the building security staff, the local police or fire department, the Civil Service Employee Health Unit, paramedics or the nearest hospital.
  • Clearly state the problem. Describe the accident or symptoms of the illness as clearly and calmly as possible.
  • Give the exact location including the name of the building and the street number, floor, section, room number, and door to enter.
  • Have someone meet the rescue personnel. Send a co-worker to the designated point of entrance to meet the rescue personnel and have someone hold the elevator.
  • Notify the family. At the employee's request, a supervisor or friend should notify an adult member of the immediate family. Be factual. Do not cause any unnecessary alarm. If appropriate, repeat the name of the hospital/emergency facility where the employee was taken. Be sure to give the family your name and telephone number so they can check back with you, if necessary.

Important Things to Remember

  • Be sure you know how to report an emergency and who to report it to.
  • Be aware of alternate exits from your floor and your building.
  • Be sure all evacuation routes are clear.

When reporting a fire or other emergency:

  • Be prepared to give the following information: your name, building name and room number, the floor of the emergency, type of emergency.
  • Then follow all instructions given concerning the emergency.
  • Never assume someone else has turned in an alarm.
  • Do not be the first one to hang up the telephone. Let the emergency personnel hang up first. There may be other questions that need to be answered.

When the fire alarm sounds:

  • Do not panic.
  • Walk, don't run.
  • Use exit stairwells.
  • Keep conversation to a minimum.
  • Leave lights on and close doors.
  • Be alert for further instructions.
  • Do not start rumors.
  • Do not congregate near the exit stairwell doors.

If there is a fire on your floor, follow these steps:

  • Don't attempt to open any door without first testing it with the back of your hand.
  • If the door feels warm do not open it. If the door feels cool, open it slightly and check for smoke.
  • Leave all lights on and close all doors behind you, making sure they are not locked.
  • Use the exit stairwells, not the elevators.
  • If there is smoke in the area, stay low to the floor during the evacuation.

If there is a fire or substantial amount of smoke in the hallway:

  • Stay in the room and remain calm.
  • Dial your emergency number and inform them of the situation and that you cannot safely evacuate.
  • Seal the cracks around the door to keep smoke out.
  • If smoke enters the room, stay close to the floor and breathe slowly.
  • Remain calm and wait for help to arrive.