Steps for maintaining and securing vacant facilities
Tuesday, April 28, 2020
As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to lash the United States, the pandemic has continued to force facilities shut and altered the use of facilities recently teeming with people. Nonessential offices are shuttered with workers at home. Schools are mostly closed until next fall, hotels are dark, restaurants shut, and many churches and other gathering places are locked until further notice.
The coronavirus shutdown means the time is ripe for a discussion of how to maintain and ensure the security of any closed facility. Pandemic or otherwise, maintaining a shuttered facility requires some appropriate action. It’s vital to maintain the operation of all emergency systems and monitor operating systems to ensure you’re not wasting energy in empty areas.
When adapting to building to little or no occupancy, consider the following.
Ensure HVAC and lighting controls or hot water are adjusted to reflect a low load. Make sure your controls and control sequences match any altered operating hours caused and that they’re adaptive to fluctuations in load conditions.
Keep emergency systems current. Just because a building is empty doesn’t mean security systems are not required. Make sure the fire suppression and detection systems are up to date with the inspection, testing, and maintenance requirements.
According to the National Fire Protection Association guide, “Guidance for Maintaining Fire Protection and Life Safety Systems Regardless of Occupancy Status,” all commercial and multi-occupancy residential buildings should maintain fully operational fire and life safety systems as required by the applicable codes and standards. Those responsible for these buildings should adhere to expected schedules for inspection, testing, and maintenance (ITM) that are vital to their operation. If they are unable to do so, they should contact their local authority having jurisdiction.
Employees who perform inspections and maintenance should be deemed essential workers.
Doors in fire protection-rated construction and smoke barriers are passive systems within the building fire safety program. Blocking open smoke or fire-protection rated doors can compromise the integrity of a building’s compartmentation plan.
Sprinkler systems must be maintained in good working condition long after the building has been shut down and are useless without an adequate water supply. All valves should be locked in the open position and inspected and tested.
For water supplies that rely on fire pumps, ensure that the fuel or power to these pumps is maintained and that the pump itself is properly maintained and tested.
Other things you can do include eliminating unnecessary combustibles and ignition sources in the building. Also, if there are any fire doors in the building, they should be closed to limit fire and smoke spread.
Outside the building, remove storage or combustible waste materials in the yard. Removing all the weeds and brush around the building not only helps prevent fire spread but also gives a neat appearance to the property. This can deter vagrants and trespassers, since they will see that someone is looking out for the property. Lawns and bushes should be kept mowed and groomed as well.
Intrusion detection alarms consisting of contacts for vulnerable windows and doors should be installed. Motion detectors effectively monitor large areas. As with the fire alarms, intrusion alarms should also be monitored by an approved central station alarm company. Ground-level and below-grade windows should be secured.
All exterior doors should be fitted with deadbolts. When doors and windows have been secured, the roof can be used to gain access. Make sure that roof hatch and vents are locked and provided with corrosion-resistant screens.
A minimum of one weekly recorded visit should be conducted if no on-site guard service is provided. These visits should ensure that the doors and windows are in good condition and locked. All the roof hatches and vents are adequately secured. Burglar alarms must be in service, and the alarm company regularly tests alarms and confirms receipt of signals.
CCTV cameras should be in service, yard lighting needs to be adequate and in good working order, and all the gates chained and locked. Lastly, any fencing should show no sign of breaches. All local fire and police departments should be notified of the status of the building.
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