The alarm is sounded. You smell smoke.

This is not a drill.

What do you do next?

Most commercial and residential complexes have a proper evacuation plan in place in the event of a fire. These plans typically detail the designated fire exits and meeting places outside of the building. Some associations and companies in high-occupancy buildings periodically conduct fire drills. However, there are a few supplementary tips that you should keep in mind during the evacuation process:

1. Don't panic. The worst thing you can do is make irrational decisions based on fear. When an alarm is sounded, find your way out of the building as calmly as possible.

2. If you smell smoke or are otherwise notified of a fire while in your apartment, place your hand on your front door. If it is hot, then the fire is on your floor and it is likely unsafe to exit. In this case, plug the bottom of your door with clothes or blankets to prevent smoke from entering your home and try your best to signal through the window to someone on the ground that you are in the building and need assistance.

3. Use the stairs to exit the building. Never try to use the elevator.

4. Listen. Sometimes, crucial information is disseminated through building-wide intercom systems. Missing this information amidst the chaos can cause a lot of confusion. Stay calm and keep an ear out.

5. It is imperative that you focus on getting yourself to safety. If you see or hear someone in distress and the situation seems too dangerous, do not try to be a hero. Get to a predetermined safe place and notify the proper authorities. They are trained in extracting people from dangerous situations. During a fire evacuation, the less people that are harmed, the better. 

Employing common sense is key during a fire. Don't waste time on belongings; you and your family's safety is paramount. Following these guidelines and your building's existing evacuation plan can increase your chances of surviving a fire situation unscathed.

Here are some tips on how to prevent a fire.