Real Life Emergencies
Besides the people inside a building, a good plan also should protect the property itself
When a tornado struck downtown Fort Worth in May 2000, it severely damaged Cash America’s international corporate headquarters building. In the initial aftermath, fire officials deemed the nine-story, nearly 165,894-square-foot structure uninhabitable. The downside: The company did not have a disaster recovery program in place so it had to work on the fly.
“We went into auto-pilot and starting asking ourselves what do we do next,” says Property Manager J. Leo Kinney, who had started working at Cash America about six months before the twister touched down. “I volunteered to take control of things in terms of taking care of the building. I suggested the following morning that [the company] acquire a warehouse nearby and start emptying workspaces out into areas divided by floors. It was the best way to do it. It was almost automatic. You really can surprise yourself in an emergency.”
While it is possible to react quickly without a plan during an emergency, safety experts urge facility management pros to get a plan in place immediately. It will make things much easier and calmer if an emergency does occur.
Elliot Powers recalls a situation with a Los Angeles-area office property that recently faced two separate bomb threats. “Both turned out to be false events. However, because an organized, clearly planned set of procedures was in place, and the occupants of that building were properly trained by a professional emergency preparedness consultant, the emergencies were handled confidently and flawlessly,” he says.
About five years ago, Advance Realty officials had to put the company’s life safety plan into action. The main electric service transformer and switch gear in a 250,000-square-foot office property in northern New Jersey exploded and started a fire.
“Fortunately, it was at the end of the business day when it happened, and it was a Friday, so we had time to get things back together,” Padavano says.
The evacuation went smoothly, and the property management staff responded and got everyone out, according to its pre-designed plan. The fire had affected the main electrical room, which also included the building’s emergency generator, all of its telephone equipment, and many of its automated controllers for such systems as lighting and HVAC.
“It all was destroyed in the fire that followed the explosion, causing $1.2 million in damage,” Padvano says. “But because of our plan, we went from no power, no transformer, and no switch gear to having the building back up and operating in five days.”
Robin Suttell, based in Cleveland, is contributing editor at Buildings magazine.
Much like other standard building safety equipment, a growing number of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are being installed in commercial office buildings and government facilities. Although purchasing and installing AEDs are important first steps in reducing the number of deaths from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), facilities executives should establish a formal AED action plan to ensure proper procedures are followed, says Tracy Byers, director of marketing, at the Cardiac Resuscitation Unit of Bethell, WA-based Philips Medical Systems (www.medical.philips.com), located in Andover, MA.
According to Byers, SCA is actually an electrical malfunction in the heart – much different than a heart attack – with no associated risk factors; unfortunately, SCA strikes more than 250,000 people each year. Although defibrillators provide treatment for cardiac arrest, they must be used within 10 minutes from SCA onset for any chance of success. “So Philips has a mission of supporting early public access to defibrillation programs,” notes Byers. “That means putting defibrillators that are safe, effective, and easy to use in the hands of what we refer to as minimally trained or lay-responders.”
Knowing there are different types of users and frequency of training, Philips has spent significant time in offering products and services that help expand people’s confidence in using a defibrillator. Smart technology and voice prompts “guide” users through the process. Philips also has four clinically trained implementation specialists on staff that can assist commercial customers.
Byers recommends the following approach:
Choose a device(s) that is comfortable to users.
Locate the device(s), based upon who will be trained.
Make sure appropriate training resources are available, and are delivered frequently.
Determine a company-wide response time (OSHA recommends responding to medical emergencies within three to five minutes).
Create an awareness program among company personnel.
Know local EMS regulations, and communicate closely with your local EMS.
— Linda K. Monroe, Editorial Director