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Facility Managers and Their Role in an On-Site Emergency

Facilities Management Emergency Response

While many facilities managers prefer to maintain a behind-the-scenes role in the buildings they oversee, there are times when your role becomes critically important. In an emergency, FMs must take charge. You know the space better than anyone, and are able to summon resources quickly and get people where they need to go.

The best emergency response comes from thoughtful preparation. In an emergency, the facility manager defines everyone’s role so they know what to do when the moment arises. It is his or her responsibility to define mission-critical functions and assess where vulnerabilities lie. The FM coordinates all of the parts of the preparedness plan that is in place for your facility; communicating that plan to all owners, managers and occupants; and running practice scenarios to identify breakpoints in the plan. The FM takes into account new circumstances, the changing needs of building occupants, and feedback from stakeholders to tweak the plan as needed.

How Facility Managers Can Best Prepare for an Emergency

The most important key to a successfully implemented building operations plan is preparation. All emergencies, from fires to natural disasters to terrorist attacks, can cripple a facility’s operations. It is vital that your facility management staff create a thorough emergency plan.

An emergency plan should cover four key issues:

It should identify the critical building systems that must be kept functional. There are state and federal regulations and standards that address the minimum basic requirements needed for communication, emergency power, water, fire protection, fuel storage, HVAC, and lighting systems. Covered under these requirements are the safety needs of the employees, residents and visitors of the facility. Keep in mind that these requirements do not necessarily cover the services many facilities will face after an emergency has occurred.

It should include a list of everyone who occupies the building on a regular basis. Maintaining a comprehensive list of anyone and everyone you can reasonably expect will be in your facility during an emergency. Include contact information, a cell phone number and a work email, so you are able to reach them if need be. Facility managers have an obligation to ensure the safety of everyone in their facilities.

It should have a list of all equipment and other property that needs to be secured safely. Items such as computer equipment, outdoor furniture, and lawn-maintenance tools must all be properly stored in an emergency. Dedicate this responsibility to one team member to avoid confusion and a breakdown in communication which can cost precious time in an emergency situation.

It should include a checklist for every action the facilities team needs to carry out during the emergency. As noted above, it is important that every member of your team knows exactly what their duties are in a crisis. Your emergency checklist should be prominently displayed in your facility’s staff room. It is also a good idea to have a few laminated copies of your emergency plan in various central spots in your building.

Improving Your Facility’s Emergency Preparedness

The best way to prepare for an emergency situation is to perform a mock disaster run-through every quarter. This can be anything from a natural disaster such as tornadoes or earthquakes, hurricanes, to a potentially life or death situation such as a terrorist threat or a potentially violent individual in the facility. Choose a scenario and act it out, having everyone involved role-play their own part. After the mock-crisis is over, evaluate your team.

  • How calm did your team remain in the face of this crisis?
  • How well did they gather the facts? Was any relevant data missed that would have aided you in your decision-making?
  • What decisions did you make and how effective where they?
  • What was your team’s reaction time?
  • Using a scale of one to five, how well did you rank in each of the above?
  • How well did your crisis plan work? What impact did it have on employee morale and/or the public’s image of you?

These trial runs will test your team’s ability to recover from unexpected events and highlight any flaws or weaknesses in your plan. It is also important to routinely check the maintenance and functionality of your property’s safety equipment such as sprinklers and alarms, and designing workspaces so that people can freely move to get to an exit.

Create a command center. Devote a space in your facility or off-site that is crisis-ready. Equip the room with supplies such as televisions, phones and computers. This is where your crisis team will gather to discuss developments, stay informed and devise your company’s response. Be sure everyone involved is aware of this space.

It is important that facilities managers communicate to occupants well ahead of time what they need to do in the event of an emergency. Make sure this information gets disseminated to everyone. Many building occupants report that they are not aware of the location of safety equipment or procedures. They believe that their workplaces are unprepared for power outages and natural disasters and they are unsure who to report to with a safety question or concern.

IFMA-Long Island Platinum sponsor Total Fire Protection has performed fire and life safety services for numerous corporate and government clients across the United States. Their professional technicians have decades of experience keeping facilities of all types and sizes up to code and ensuring that tenants are kept safe. They pride themselves in developing lifelong relationships with their clients and partners. Total Fire Protection offers, new and existing customers, comprehensive cost-benefit analysis for their fire and life safety services. In a dire situation, Total Fire Protection will dispatch our emergency response team 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Your team’s reaction in an on-site emergency can have a drastic effect on the outcome of the situation. If handled properly, the occupants and staff of your facility will emerge from the disaster unscathed and with a deepened level confidence in your management ability.

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