In my 30 plus years working in office environments across many industries, a trend became apparent very quickly as to who management would elect to be the Emergency Control Organisation (ECO), first aid officers, fire wardens and even chief wardens, and more often than not I was one of the chosen few. These roles were assigned to staff that fell into a number of categories including but not limited to:

  1. People that would be in the office – open to close, 5 days a week.
  2. People whose perceived value to the organisation (i.e. time away from the business for training and drills, would not impact the revenue to the company), very rarely was a sales representative, senior management or marketing associate assigned these roles

This of course meant people in administration positions, office or warehousing roles were often chosen for these positions.  This over time presented issues, how could the receptionist possible instruct their manager, the Human Resources manager or even Chief Executive Officer, to immediately evacuate, to abandon their work, their phone call or even their meetings with visitors for what might potentially be a false alarm or even worse a drill or exercise.

I can tell you from personal experience, decades ago, evacuation exercises were not the effective training tool they are today. Mandated drills or false alarms left many a receptionist, secretary or junior shaking in their boots about the potential backlash of making such requests of senior management to evacuate, regardless of audible alarms, very rarely would they insist or even feel empowered to make such a demand.

Overseas, where threats where prevalent, more “real life” previous generations seemed to respect those in authority more than now and they had a healthy ‘concern’ for dangerous situations.  I grew up with ‘baby boomer’ parents who as teenagers were confronted with the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament protests and faced daily news reports regarding nuclear bombs and the Cold War.

Indeed, my mother worked in advertising in Fleet Street based in an office directly opposite the Daily Telegraph (and other national newspapers).  Also in her own building, the Irish Times newspaper was situated.  As part of her usual/normal duties, she received numerous bomb threats and was responsible for clearing the building and arranging all employees to congregate at a pre-nominated safe area outside.  In those days, work was frequently disrupted but everyone willingly followed the evacuation process.  Was this due to people recognising the very ‘real’ danger?

These days how can the Emergency Control Organisation (ECO) members deal with ever increasing complacency following false alarms, the “School of Google Search” graduate that “just knows better” or the individual that just believes the rules don’t apply to THEM. It is important that the ECO is able to stress the importance of safety drills without overdramatising or emphasising fears.  As for our first responders, the general workforce needs to recognise the important work carried out by the ECO.

The positions over the years have evolved into a more structured organisation with clear roles and responsibilities, with those clear roles and responsibilities come a list of attributes required for people to hold those roles.

What is the Emergency Control Organisation (ECO)?

The Emergency Control Organisation (ECO) fills a significant void in control and authority from the point an emergency commences until the moment emergency services (fire, police or ambulance or even SES – depending on the emergency) arrive on scene and take control.

The Emergency Control Organisation (ECO) is tasked with the control of emergency events within a facility or workplace, covering more than just fire evacuations, they are also tasked with overall control of medical emergencies and other emergencies requiring said facility to lock down or shelter in place. This is why it is important that people elected to these roles be mature, responsible, physically capable, have the knowledge and have the confidence of the facility/workplace occupants.

Management also plays a significant role in not only electing people with the skills and characteristics required but ensuring all employees are aware of the significant role the Emergency Control Organisation (ECO) plays within the organisation – not only in an emergency but also the day to day housekeeping and management to prevent emergencies. Management also needs to ensure that it is understood by occupants, employees and visitors that during emergencies, instructions from the Emergency Control Organisation (ECO) personnel and fire and rescue services personnel overrule the normal management structure.


So how effective and empowered is your ECO?  Are your ECO members treated with the respect they should have in fulfilling their duties and responsibilities?  Get in touch with Workplace Emergency Management to discuss how we can help your organisation become emergency response ready and have a trained and effective ECO in place.


Are you ready for peace of mind that your workforce is as safe and prepared as possible?

With a dedicated team of staff ready to help you meet compliance requirements and improve the overall safety of your workplace, all you need to do is get in touch.

Request your free audit today!