Emergencies can paralyze an organization: Are you prepared?
Wednesday, November 09, 2016
At 10 a.m. on a Wednesday, the building receptionist for a large organization comprised of several adjoining buildings receives a bomb threat. The receptionist immediately notifies her supervisor, the director of security. He informs the organization's leadership, the director of facilities management, the public relations officer and local authorities.
After some discussion of the specifics of the threat, the director of security believes it to be credible. He, after consultation, orders all buildings evacuated. The director of facilities management is asked to implement the emergency management plan.
Immediately, a directive is issued to facility personnel, and the emergency management plan is put into action. Trained building and floor marshals manage the building evacuations. Facilities management personnel assist persons with disabilities, direct evacuees to the assembly sites and provide support to police search teams.
The evacuation is conducted swiftly and with care. In a matter of minutes, the buildings are empty. Due to the provided facility intelligence information and annual familiarization tours of each building, police search teams conduct a rapid and thorough search of the buildings. This carefully orchestrated action results in nothing found.
Fortunately, this event was a false alarm, but what if it had not been? What if a terrorist act took place that destroyed part of a building, contaminated the facility's air supply, or in some manner endangered the building's occupants?
Having personnel in facilities management who know what to do, where to go and how to react may mean the difference in saving lives, having fewer injuries or incurring less damage to a structure.
Now, more than ever before in the history of the United States, every citizen, institution, private company and government agency must be prepared for any type of emergency. Facility managers play a major role in preparing their facilities and organizations to cope with any eventuality.
The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is a framework developed and implemented to improve coordination of federal, state, local and tribal governments and the private sector in response to emergencies, and how these organizations would respond. Facility managers should have an understanding of NIMS because it is a comprehensive and flexible approach to managing incidents of all types and sizes, and can be integrated into facility emergency management plans.
Most facility managers are already familiar with emergency situations since they deal with potential emergencies on a daily or weekly basis. These emergencies can range from electrical power outages during extremely hot or inclement weather, elevator trap issues, fire protection systems that occasionally malfunction, hazardous materials and spills that must be cleaned up, indoor air quality complaints, natural disaster response and recovery, infectious disease response, physical security support, water disruption and floods, workplace violence, and terrorism.
Any one of these emergency situations could paralyze an organization.
Emergencies can hit at anytime and anywhere. An event often becomes an emergency because it was "unexpected." It can become a crisis if there is inadequate preparation to respond appropriately and in a timely manner.
For example, an overflowing toilet is an emergency. If detected immediately as it begins to overflow, the damage can be minimized to only a few gallons of water. That same overflowing toilet can become a disaster if it continues to overflow undetected for many hours, spilling thousands of gallons of water to the floors below.
Every organization should identify the types of emergencies that could occur and then develop their plan around those eventualities. Preparedness is insurance. Just as insurance companies depend on risk assessment, so should the facility manager consider the risk vulnerabilities when developing an emergency management plan for their organization.
Obviously, not all facilities experience the same risk. For example, a warehouse may not require the same preparations as the corporate headquarters building. Additionally, geographic location would make some risks more obvious. Hawaii would be susceptible to tropical storms, whereas Kansas would not be. The Midwestern states have a high probability of tornadoes, whereas Southeastern states are more prone to hurricanes.
A more insidious risk today is the "lone wolf" terrorist. As a result, facility managers must include physical security planning in their emergency management plans. Facility managers know the day-to-day quirks and workings in a facility better than anyone else and can provide advice on what physical security measures should be implemented.
Facility managers can take numerous actions to make it more difficult to attack their buildings and keep employees safe. Those steps include installing surveillance cameras and using intelligent video, installing barriers or bollards, installing or upgrading fencing, upgrading lighting inside and outside, securing utility openings, improving access by using turnstiles, smart cards and biometrics, implementing a visitor management software, protecting windows to prevent glass shatter, protecting HVAC systems, and using wearable technology.
To reduce the potential for emergency and security situations, facility managers should also understand the factors and strategies of mitigation.
The goal of mitigation is to avoid hazardous circumstances. Essentially, it is a review process to determine what actions can be taken beforehand to minimize emergencies from occurring and optimize security. The facility manager has the most responsibility to mitigate hazards and for complying with and following existing building codes, fire regulations, zoning ordinances, public health ordinances and hazardous materials ordinances.
The final phase of emergency management planning is recovery. It starts when the emergency is under control and stabilized. Recovery essentially has two phases: short term and long term.
Short-term recovery is the first priority — to get vital systems restored and operational. Long-term recovery is the continuation of the recovery. It can take months and even years to restore the area to original, pre-emergency conditions as experienced in New Orleans and New Jersey with hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
When in the recovery phase, the organization's leadership is focused on continuing to achieve and support the mission, commonly known as business continuity. The goal at this stage is to ensure the survival and continuation of operations and business enterprise.
Because the facility management organization has business continuity integrated into its emergency plan, the organization is better prepared. Thus, the cost of a disruption to the mission can be significantly reduced, making the organization more resilient.
Finally, the single greatest resources facility managers have are people — the employees. Most facility and property management employees are dedicated to their work. They perform their duties and are concerned for the public they serve.
However, when a community disaster occurs, concern for the welfare of families, relatives and friends could easily affect job performance. Encouraging "family emergency preparedness" benefits employees and employers.
Managers who are concerned not only for welfare of their employees but also for families help build trust and confidence in the organization and themselves.
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