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August 19, 2021 | Blog

Commercial Property's
Emergency Preparedness

Some experts say being prepared for a natural disaster or other emergencies can ultimately save your life.
Here's what to do before, during, and after an emergency.

The Importance of Emergency Preparedness for Commercial Properties

The Importance of Emergency Preparedness for Commercial Properties

What is an Emergency Preparedness Plan

An emergency preparedness plan prepares your facility or property for unexpected disruptions by following a planned response. According to an official government organization (Homeland Security), planning makes it possible to manage the entire life cycle of a potential crisis, including in a commercial complex workplace.

Managing potential disaster crises in commercial real estate requires effective communication and operational planning to establish priorities, identify expected levels of performance and capability requirements, provide the standard for assessing capabilities, and help stakeholder resources understand their roles.

The Importance of Emergency Preparedness Plan

The Importance of Emergency Preparedness Plan

An emergency preparedness plan is an important component for commercial assets of every size and scope. At Servi-Tek Engineering and Facility Solutions, we recognize that creating an emergency preparedness plan can yield essential, valuable benefits including:

Promotes Employee Safety

A detailed emergency preparedness plan provides invaluable guidance to keep your tenants, employees, and visitors safe during an unexpected event. A thorough strategy gives your operations staff a step-by-step outline of what to do, where to go, and whom to call, as well as, minimize workplace injuries.

Minimize Damage To Physical Plant

A natural disaster can have severe adverse consequences on your facility or property, which includes possibly grinding your operations to a halt. Pinpointing any pending risk or threat can help you develop a proactive plan to minimize damages to your property, its internal equipment, and the overall structure of your asset.

Protect The Environment

When putting together your plan, you may determine various strategies that not only help you protect your staff and building but also help facilitate the prevention of any destruction to the environment and surrounding community.

Discover Hazardous Work Conditions

When developing a preparedness plan, you may discover potential and dangerous circumstances within your building that could intensify the emergency. Identifying these hazardous work conditions provides a vital opportunity to resolve these issues before an act of nature or unforeseen circumstances occur.

Address Procurement Requirements 

Working through the planning process can also unearth various facility deficiencies and inefficiencies. You and your team may discover that your building lacks vital resources such as supplies and the equipment needed to navigate through a natural disaster. Having this information in advance means you can purchase and replenish additional resources, and rectify the situation so you’re ready in the event of an emergency.

Expedite Resumption Of Business Operations

Finally, creating a plan can help ensure that, in the event of an emergency, your team will have the training, equipment, and resources to get back to business as quickly as possible.

For properties such as a retail center, office building, or industrial complex, this is especially critical as the tenants will surely want to resume their workplace operations as soon as practical.   

5 Emergency Preparedness Plan Considerations  

Whether it is a fire outbreak, earthquake, evacuation, flood, tornado, power outage, hurricane, or blizzard, emergencies can hit commercial properties. Knowing which disasters are more likely to affect your commercial asset can help focus on specific preparation.

In some cases, severe weather events can be forecast days or hours before they arrive, providing valuable time to protect your facility.

When establishing a preparedness plan, resources should be at hand or made available to prepare a facility. The plan should also include a process for damage assessment, salvage, protection of undamaged property, and cleanup following an incident.

The actions taken within the initial minutes of a no-warning emergency can be critical. A prompt warning for employees to evacuate, shelter, or lockdown can save lives. A call for help to public emergency services that provides full and accurate information will help the dispatcher send the right responders and equipment.

An employee trained to administer first aid or perform CPR can be lifesaving. Actions taken by employees with knowledge of building and process systems can help control a leak and minimize damage to the facility and the environment.

Here are five considerations that your property can use to help guide emergency planning.

Know your risks

Know your risks

The first step when developing an emergency response plan is to conduct a risk assessment to identify potential emergency scenarios. An understanding of what can happen will enable you to determine resource requirements and develop plans and procedures to prepare your facility. The emergency plan should be consistent with your performance objectives.

Every commercial property should develop and implement an emergency preparedness plan for protecting employees, tenants, visitors, contractors, and everyone in the facility. This form of an emergency plan is known as protective actions for life safety. 

The protective actions include building evacuation (fire drills), sheltering from severe weather such as tornadoes, “shelter-in-place” from an exterior airborne hazard such as a chemical release and lockdown. Lockdown is a protective action implemented when faced with an act of violence.

When an emergency occurs, the priority is life safety. The second priority is the stabilization of the incident. Many actions can be taken to stabilize an incident and minimize potential damage.

First aid and CPR by trained employees can save lives. The use of fire extinguishers by trained employees can extinguish a small fire. Containment of a small chemical spill and supervision of building utilities and systems can minimize damage to a building and help prevent environmental damage.

Build a team

Build a team

In today’s environment, individuals within your property operations team may have a role as a first responder. Emergency response plans should be the product of an inclusive team, instead of a single individual or group.

Putting together a team of subject matter experts from different departments helps in shaping the span of the plan, including a cycle of the four phases of emergency management:

• Mitigation: Preventing emergencies and minimizing the effects if an emergency occurs.

• Preparedness: Identified efforts to prepare for the emergency.

• Response: Plans and efforts to respond safely to the emergency.

• Recovery: Actions needed to return the facility to normal operations.

Subject matter experts or other representatives from safety, security, facilities, or operations, along with facility or building management should be involved from the start of the planning phase. If plans are already in place, that team would form a good review committee to ensure that all areas are covered.

Resource Identification 

Developing an emergency plan begins with an understanding of what can happen. Review your risk assessment. Consider the performance objectives that you established for your program, and decide on how much you want to invest in planning beyond what is required by regulations.

Assess what resources are available for incident stabilization. Consider internal resources and external resources including public emergency services and contractors. Public emergency services include fire departments that may also provide rescue, hazardous materials, and emergency medical services. Collaborate with local law enforcement to coordinate planning for security-related threats.

Document available resources. Determine whether external resources have the information they would need to handle an emergency. If not, determine what information is required, and be sure to document that information in your plan.

Prioritizing Communication

Clear, timely communication is crucial in every emergency. It enables senior management to establish communication with everyone in the facility and the surrounding community regarding the situation and the appropriate action that should be taken. Prioritizing communication also indicates the primary performance objective of an emergency plan: life safety and the protection of life against immediate threats.

When planning the chain of command, building or property management should identify employees with specific responsibilities and assign, at least, one backup to provide redundancy, in case the primary contact isn’t present or is preoccupied. There are many options when it comes to choosing the right technologies to support the communications process during an emergency.

It is best to deploy multi-layered emergency communications solutions and to consider that advanced technologies like addressable fire alarm speakers can deliver targeted messages to specific areas within a building, helping keep building occupants informed and up-to-date as an event unfolds.

Testing Plans

After developing an emergency plan, all involved parties must test the preparedness plan, even if they don’t have an active role assigned to them. It is important that everyone, who may be affected in an emergency, is familiar with the plan’s structure to help facilitate smooth execution.

Other stakeholders and governmental agencies, as applicable, should also be involved in both the creation and testing of the plan; the management should bring in external authorities to help optimize the plan.

The last stage of the plan is to implement the emergency plan, preferably, regularly. However, this does not mean that companies should implement the same emergency in each exercise.

The exercises should include a variety of situations, ranging from large to small. The plan should also be flexible over time and adjusted according to feedback following drills and emergencies.

Buildings and worksites rarely stay the same for long, and each change may affect your plans for the right actions to take during emergencies. That’s why it’s a good idea to review your plan regularly, depending on how often changes take place. You hope you’ll never see your plan put to the test, but if it ever has to be, you want to be confident that it will work exactly as you designed it to do.

It is important to implement drills. During these drills, weak links will become obvious and deficiencies can be corrected. The repetition of the testing of an emergency plan is the key to its success. 

Companies may want to review their plans amongst colleagues and facilities, finding common elements between the situations and grouping them into categories requiring similar resources and actions.

What Should an Emergency Preparedness Plan Reflect?

Incident Stabilization

Stabilizing an emergency may involve many different actions including firefighting, administering medical treatment, rescue, containing a spill of hazardous chemicals, or handling a threat or act of violence. When you dial 9-1-1 you expect emergency services professionals to respond to your facility.

Depending upon the type of emergency and on-site resources within your facility, you may choose to do more to prepare for these incidents. Circumstances may require you to take action before emergency services arrive, without jeopardizing the safety of your operations team.

Examples include preparing the loading dock for the arrival of responding emergency medical services or insuring the elevators are not utilized by building occupants during a fire alarm activation.  

Protective Actions Checklist for Life Safety

When there is a fire outbreak or chemical spills within a building, occupants within the building should be evacuated or relocated to safety. Incidents such as a bomb threat or receipt of a suspicious package may also require evacuation. If a tornado warning is a broadcast, everyone should be moved to the strongest part of the building and away from the exterior glass.

If a transportation accident on nearby highway results in the release of a chemical cloud, the fire department may warn to “shelter-in-place.” To protect employees from an active shooter situation, it’s likely circumstances will dictate occupants should hide or barricade themselves from the alleged perpetrator.

Your emergency plan should include these protective actions. If you have tenants in a multi-tenanted building, ensure there is effective communication between building management and each tenant.

What should be in the Emergency Supply Kit?

During an emergency, you will need some basic emergency supplies. Make sure your resources are properly stored and accessible at all times, including after-hours periods.  

Your basic emergency kit checklist should contain at a minimum:
  • Bottled water
  • Additional batteries for two-way radios utilized at the property
  • Plastic tarps
  • Wind-up or battery-powered flashlights (and extra batteries)
  • Wind-up or battery-powered radio (and extra batteries)
  • Megaphones 
  • First aid kit

Additional fuel for the building’s emergency generator should also be properly stored on-site, as required.  

Back To Basics for a Disaster or an Emergency Plan

It is important to remember the basics, rather than reinvent the wheel when creating and practicing an emergency plan. While there is no single method that will perfectly prepare a facility for an emergency, taking steps to implement an efficient and adaptable plan is an excellent way to start.

It often happens without warning: a tornado alarm sounds, a fire breaks out, or there’s a chemical or toxic spill.  Except for mandatory emergency escape route signs that few tenants or employees even notice, most companies aren’t prepared.  A building’s evacuation plans, for example, should be second nature to all occupants.  

Due to the nature of emergency preparedness plans, it’s recommended the completed document should be reviewed by legal counsel and risk management resources.  

Servi-Tek Engineering and Facility Solutions

Servi-Tek’s seasoned engineering professionals can help you identify building deficiencies, inefficiencies, and potential risks and develop enhancement plans and upgrades.  

We believe in and facilitate creating value for your commercial asset, and its corresponding operations. 

We understand the importance of an emergency preparedness plan and can be a valuable resource to property and facility managers in drafting their guidelines and documentation.  

Contact us today to hear more about our full-service engineering and maintenance services.  

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