Internal Relocation: What You Need to Know

What is Internal Relocation?

Internal relocation is the most common of the three core response procedures in high-rise buildings.  The standard response in a fire alarm activation, internal relocation involves moving occupants from floors near an incident to a safer floor below.

Because modern construction methods, detection devices, and suppression systems are so effective at preventing the spread of smoke or fire, it is rarely necessary to evacuate a high-rise building upon activation of an alarm.  In most cases, only occupants on the floors near the incident need to move. And they do not need to evacuate the building – simply moving a few floors below the incident floor usually offers sufficient protection. (In addition, requiring occupants of 30, 40, and 50-story buildings to descend all the way to street level can cause injuries.)

When to use Internal Relocation:

While most internal relocations occur due to fire alarm activation, the procedure can be used for a variety of localized threats, such as flooding, airborne hazards, hazardous materials spills, etc. In some cases, such as regional flooding that enters a building, occupants can be relocated to higher floors, however in most cases the movement is downward.

What you need to know:

Most jurisdictions in the United States require occupants on the alarm-activated floor, as well as the floor above and floor below to move either three or four floors down via the exit stairwells and re-enter the building. However, this varies city to city – some Fire Departments want two floors below the alarm activation floor to vacate, Chicago allows up to eight floors to move, etc.

Similarly, in most buildings occupants will descend a fixed number of floors, usually three or four, but this too can vary. In most buildings, especially newer construction, every floor except the lobby level is a re-entry floor. However, some properties designate specific re-entry floors. These could be fixed — every fourth floor, for example. Or the number of floors to descend can vary floor to floor due to the presence of mechanical floors, high-security floors, or other spaces that are cannot work as reentry floors. In these cases, occupants on floor 20 might descend four floors, those on 19 might go down five, etc.

Floor wardens need to be trained on how many floors down they will be directing their colleagues in a relocation. But one decidedly low-tech tool that greatly helps reduce confusion is signage in the stairwells.  Clear signage on every floor indicating the proper reentry floor helps ensure that everyone winds up in the correct place, even when floor wardens may be absent. Some buildings do this through symbols – if you are leaving on a blue star floor, go down until you see the next blue star.

Note that lower floors do not relocate, but always evacuate the building.  The lobby level cannot be used as a relocation floor – firefighters need that floor clear in order to be able to move freely into the fire control room, stairwells, and elevators. Nor can occupants on floors 2 or 3 relocate underground. In a building that moves occupants four floors down, occupants on floors one through five would all need to evacuate.

Several other key aspects of effective internal relocations – how to relay floor status reports and dealing with occupants needing assistance due to mobility impairments – will be addressed in upcoming blog posts.

If you have questions around internal relocation in your own building, please don’t hesitate to contact us.