Weigh the Risks
If you're busy monitoring your energy consumption or attending to sustainability goals, it's easy to become complacent about life safety. Code compliance can only spurn so much motivation if your department is stretched thin.
Far too often, it takes a public tragedy to motivate real change in building protection practices. Deadly fires draw national attention to gaps in life safety (see sidebar), but so do events like 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and school shootings.
Beyond saving lives, there's a strong business case – the damage from even a small fire can amount to thousands of dollars and a lawsuit stemming from an incident can be a major drain. A poor life safety program not only decreases occupant safety and increases legal liability, but it tarnishes your business reputation as well.
Think of a well-appointed emergency plan as an opportunity to attract prospective clients. "Corporations looking to lease space are being proactive in their due diligence and are evaluating the status of building protection systems, safety procedures, and emergency management programs in prospective locations," says Jason Reid, founder and principal of the National Life Safety Group. A potential client could say "no thanks" if they don't feel your life safety measures are up to par.
Fines for code violations may also hit your pocketbook. A broken fire door may not look like a pressing concern, but something as small as a damaged hinge or malfunctioning latch is a serious matter. If a fire door doesn't work properly, it will enable, not deter, smoke and fire migration. Not only will this increase the extent of the damage, but it also compromises your insurance coverage.
"An inspector will want to see proof that inspections were performed and the door was properly working," Reid explains. "If you can't provide documentation, the insurance company may deny portions of a damage claim."
Plagued by false alarms? Many fire departments are starting to charge properties for response calls, much like an ambulance ride to the hospital. Depending on your location, you could be billed for nuisance alarms.
"For example, the city of Toronto charges $500 a truck for every nuisance or malicious alarm," Reid observes. "In a high-rise tower, a minimum of three trucks respond – that's $1,500 just for a false alarm."
The cost of a false alarm also affects business continuity. You can calculate lost productivity by taking the length of a false alarm and multiplying it by the number of employees affected and their hourly wage. A mere 30 minutes of disruption could be hundreds of dollars lost when workers have to evacuate.
You can even think of life safety in terms of energy and water conservation. If a fire door is ajar, your HVAC could be working harder to condition an area it wasn't designed to cover. A blown sprinkler head could shed hundreds of gallons of water before its shut off.
While it can be difficult to get funding for life safety improvements, make the case that proactive investments protect future dollars and ongoing operations.