Danger can lurk around any corner. Hurricanes, tornadoes and other major storms have ripped across the United States, tearing up neighborhoods, businesses and lives. Active shooter situations have unfortunately become more common, and these don’t just occur at schools.
What can FMs do if they’re faced with these and other catastrophic scenarios? Don’t wait until an unfortunate event strikes to do something about it. Create a disaster preparedness and prevention plan ahead of time and follow that protocol in case the worst happens.
Do a Risk Assessment
You can’t always predict everything that will go wrong, but you can expect certain dangers that could occur in your own building. This is known as a risk assessment.
“An understanding of what can happen will enable you to determine resource requirements and to develop plans and procedures to prepare your business,” says disaster preparedness resource Ready.gov. “The emergency plan should be consistent with your performance objectives.”
Tell the Team What to Do
In the event of a disaster, everyone should have a job to do. Dedicate a few days (or a week) on formal employee training so they know what to do in the event of a disaster, James McDonald at software company iOffice writes. This may mean specific training sessions for specific staff, such as engineers or electricians.
After Making a Plan, Update It Each Year
“Technicians come and go, technology changes, and facilities replace equipment,” Wayne Henderson at FacilitiesNet says. That means an FM should sit down once a year and check that their preparedness plan includes current technology. Don’t wait until after a catastrophe to find out the hard way that a preparedness plan is horribly out-of-date.
Test It Live
Today, more so than ever, it’s worth it to take a bit of time out to run through fire drills, evacuation procedures and other emergency responses, Vivian Marinelli, Senior Director of Crisis Management Services for FEI Behavioral Health writes at Facility Management. These practice tests let people know exactly what to do in the event of real emergencies.
Double-Check All Alarms
Throughout the year, check all the alarms throughout the building to make sure these have fresh batteries and are working properly, the team at UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) suggests. Don’t forget water-sensing alarms, extinguishing systems, fire alarms, carbon monoxide alarms and the like. These save lives, and if they’re not working in an emergency, the outcome could be deadly.
And Exits, Too
If the building begins crumbling in a natural disaster like a tornado or other severe storm, exits could be obstructed. Jack Rubinger at Facility Executive recommends creating special exits out of the building and ensuring these are “marked with clear wayfinding signage that is visible without light or power.” This prevents too many people trying to squeeze out of one exit, helping everyone possible to get out of the building safely.
Make a Survival Kit
Whether at home or at work, a survival kit comes in handy if stuck in one location for a length of time. Travelers Insurance recommends adding the following items to this kit:
- A notebook and pen
- Bug spray
- Duct tape
- A first-aid kit
- Blankets and clothing
- A hand-cranked radio
- A flashlight
- Spare batteries
- Canned and nonperishable food
- Water (aim for one gallon per person per day)
Form an Emergency Response Team
You don’t necessarily have to hire anyone new for the job; just gather a few trusted employees who can double as an emergency response team if needed.
“Employees with local language skills should be trained to work with local residents, government and media,” Lori Brassell-Cicchini and Carol Laufer at PropertyCasualty360 say. “Because a crisis may last for weeks, it is crucial to designate backup teams and develop transition plans so that the hand-off goes smoothly.”
Find Temporary Shelter
In some situations, it’s possible that not everyone can go home during the disaster or its aftermath. In a situation like that, they need temporary shelter as far from the disaster as possible. The Disaster Resource Guide shares some criteria for ideal temporary shelters:
- Must be tested for safety
- Must have clearly marked exits
- Must have a fire suppression system
- Must have adequate parking
- Must have HVAC and working power/backup power
Employees should also receive training on what to do if an active shooter is on the premises. Facilities managers may also wish to consider this tip from Joseph L. Smith at the Whole Building Design Guide through the National Institute of Building Sciences: get a window system installed.
“When an aggressor hits a window system for example, expecting it to easily break and it doesn’t, this disrupts their processing of events,” Smith writes. “They have to make decisions. Do they continue to attack to break through?...Regardless of the outcome, such systems can provide disruption and delay.” That’s useful, life-saving time every occupant in the building can take advantage of.
Get Disaster Insurance
Sure, you may never need disaster insurance, but isn’t it better to be safe than sorry? Law firm Greenberg Traurig recommends discussing a pre-catastrophe insurance policy review with an insurance provider. While price is important, make sure to delve into what kind of coverage an FM can expect with this insurance.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
You never know where you might end up in a dangerous situation. You may be away from the rest of your crew or they may get separated from you. You need to be able to stay in touch. Cell phone reception may be spotty, but it’s worth a try. Remember not to drain your phone battery in an emergency situation.
No reception? The CDC recommends picking a few meeting places where everyone can regroup. “Make sure you choose a meeting place in your neighborhood, just outside your neighborhood, and a meeting place out of town.”
Check for Danger After the Event
“Employees working in separate buildings may be exposed to different threats,” writes John Poole, Jr. at ClearLink. “Hazards must be evaluated based on the building and/or operations within that building.”
For example, a room housing computer servers and other electrical equipment is at risk of fire or electrocuting employees. A room housing chemicals could have a toxic leak.
Eventually, once the danger is over, all the occupants are cleared and the building is deemed safe to return to, it’s time to rebuild.
“Although overlooked as part of their day-to-day job, knowing whom to contact — plumbers, electricians, restoration companies and similar skilled trades and suppliers — is critical to responding quickly and effectively to facility damage,” says Jim Mitchell at technology company eBRP Solutions.
Plan for Next Time
While you hope there will never be a next time, you must be realistic. Robert O'Brien at Security Magazine says a post-event evaluation is crucial for better preparedness if another catastrophe strikes. Review how quickly and thoroughly the threat was assessed and contained and determine what improvements can be made.