Disasters Happen – It's Not a Matter of If but When

Wednesday, September 07, 2016Katie Tucker

Are you and your facility disaster ready? As reported by the American Red Cross, as many as 40 percent of small businesses never reopen following a major natural disaster, such as a flood, tornado or earthquake. A majority of those businesses had no disaster plans or back-up systems in place. Aristotle said it best, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.” The same is true for disaster preparedness and emergency management. As a facility manager, continuous examination of potential building risks and exposures is necessary and should become a habit in your daily work practices.

Disaster preparedness involves a proactive, well-planned approach to emergency management. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) defines preparedness as "a continuous cycle of planning, organizing, training, equipping, exercising, evaluating, and taking corrective action in an effort to ensure effective coordination during incident response." According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are four phases of emergency management, including: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery. The first two phases are critical components that one should implement prior to the incident. The latter two involve putting your pre-incident plans into action. 

- Understand the facility’s history and focus on what could affect the integrity of the building (e.g. location, renovations, modifications, etc.);
- Identify and evaluate property hazards and arrange for back-up plans: 1. electrical power emergency; 2. interior flooding; 3. elevators and escalators; 4. fire emergency; 5. hazardous materials/spills emergencies; 6. Indoor air quality; 7. storm preparedness; 8. water loss; 9. vandalism; 10. employee error
- Examine your insurance coverage and familiarize yourself with its limits and exclusions;
- Conduct inspections that cover all building materials and components of a structure;
- Regular maintenance of the facility is critical; and
- Monitor weather activities in your area.

- Develop protocols with your disaster recovery firm ahead of time to assure that resources will be made immediately available to your facility;
- Arrange for the procurement, storage and maintenance of emergency supplies, power and equipment as they are often rapidly depleted and heavily taxed during a regional catastrophe;
- Identify which of your property’s structures require protection and how you will protect;
- Regularly update and disseminate emergency personnel’s contact information, including phone numbers and email addresses; document who should be notified in the event the facility is closed due to an emergency, and what the notification process is;
- Obtain a site plan and floor plans of the facility showing all buildings and underground utilities;
- Photo documentation of current condition of property;
- Locate all emergency equipment including sprinklers, block valves, emergency generators, fuel tanks, any materials or supplies that require special handling, chemicals, hazmat -storage and underground utilities;
- Identify shut off valves and switches for gas, oil, water and electricity;
- Move sensitive equipment and contents to higher ground to prevent water damage;
- Have an understanding of egress routes for facility evacuation; and
- Acquire incident information that occurred onsite within the last two years pertaining to facilities.

- Notify your disaster recovery firm;
- Perform damage assessment and begin mitigation activities to prevent further damage toyour facility;
- Establish a secure salvage area for supplies such as fans, tables, shelves, plastic sheeting, drying materials and clean water; and
- Make provisions to prevent further loss due to vandalism, theft, accidents, and exposure to dangerous elements.

It is critical that in this stage you document everything! Key components and objectives of the restoration portion of a disaster plan should include:
- Continuation of a healthy and safe work environment;
- Minimal interruption to business and service operations;
- Resumption of critical operations within a specified time frame;
- Minimal financial loss; and
- Assurance to all stakeholders that the organization is functional.

Disasters come in many forms, and it is virtually impossible to be fully prepared for every situation that may affect your facility. However, having a well, thought-through plan will directly correlate to the length of your facility’s downtime. Having safety procedures in place to respond quickly may help save lives, property, and the organization’s well-being. With comprehensive planning, facilities can implement systems and guidelines to mitigate impact and ensure business continuity. Small investments now will provide big returns when disasters do strike.

About the Author

Katie Tucker
General Manager, NC

In a crisis, you need rapid response from a company with the skills and experience required to handle any type of disaster.

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