On December 21, 2017, smoke spread from a malfunctioning air-handling unit on the 11th floor to parts of many other floors. While a smoke detector in an air duct functioned properly and the fire department was notified, there was no audible alarm or public announcement to notify occupants to evacuate. People in one suite described the smoke as “heavy” and “thick.”
HUD and the General Services Administration believe that the fire safety system operated as designed. To sound an audible alarm for this incident, a person would have had to pull a manual alarm. However, no one did. Without an audible alarm or public notification, confusion spread about what was happening, how widespread the threat was, and what people should do.
We found that the occupant emergency plan for the Weaver Building did not accurately describe the fire safety system or how occupants were to report a fire or other emergencies; specifically, when to use manual pull stations. The plan did not comply with regulations that require employers to explain the preferred means of reporting emergencies and to list procedures for reporting a fire or other emergency.
Additionally, on March 22, 2018, we sent a memorandum to the Assistant Secretary for Administration to inform her that fire drills had not been conducted at the Weaver Building for years, which posed a danger to occupants of the building. The Assistant Secretary responded to our memorandum by saying that a drill was being planned. On March 28, the fire drill took place. We are encouraged by the Office of Administration’s quick action, but a process is needed to ensure that drills occur at least every year.
To improve fire safety planning for the Weaver Building, we make the following recommendations to the Assistant Secretary for Administration:
1. update the occupant emergency plan so that it lists the ways occupants are to report fires or other emergencies,
2. periodically provide training on the occupant emergency plan once it is updated, and
3. create a process to help ensure that fire drills for the Weaver Building occur at least every year.