Disaster Recovery: Confidence in Crisis (1 of 7)

04/03/2006 |

The survival of any business depends upon how long it takes to get back to normal operations once a crisis occurs

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Part of any effective emergency preparedness plan must concern recovery operations. The survival of any business - yours, as a provider of facilities management services; your tenants’, as providers of a myriad of products and services - depends upon how long it takes to get back to normal operations once a crisis occurs. This 7-part report - from the Buildings editorial staff (Linda K. Monroe, Editorial Director; Jana J. Madsen, Managing Editor; Leah B. Garris, Senior Associate Editor; and Robin Suttell, Contributing Editor) - offers insight on first responders, security, clean-up efforts, business continuity, restoration, communication, and insurance.

First - and Best - Response

Since 9/11, the needs of first responders arriving to a disaster scene have generated much attention. So much, in fact, that the Gaithersburg, MD-based National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Building and Fire Research Laboratories have made strides in helping the facilities industry assist first responders (police, fire, emergency medical technicians) in working faster, more efficiently, and more effectively when arriving at a disaster site.

Based on ongoing studies and workshops, including one in May 2004 specifically aimed at better defining first responders’ needs, NIST has more clearly identified the building information that would benefit emergency responders and how it should be conveyed.

First, every building should have a comprehensive, well-defined safety plan that outlines evacuation procedures, operating information for life-safety systems, and other key details regarding what needs to be done and when, should disaster strike. This plan should be shared not only with building occupants, but with local life-safety officials.

Why? Because their representatives will be among the first on the scene after the disaster. The more they know about your building and its operations before disaster strikes, the better.

“Coordinating this plan with local fire officials or [other] first responders is important,” says Chris Jelenewicz, engineering program manager for the Society of Fire Protection Engineers, Bethesda, MD. “The time to get the fire department involved [is] when you are developing [a safety plan]. They can give you key insights [on] how they can be part of this plan.”

Comprehensive plans, according to NIST research, should include pertinent static information:

  • Where are the building’s ingress/egress locations?
  • Which systems are available to mitigate the incident (e.g. which standpipe is best)?
  • Where are the hazards and obstructions in the building?
  • Which generators power which system? What can be safely turned off?
  • Where are the nearby hazards outside the building that may be affected by the incident, such as building-to-building firespread?

Plans should include simplified drawings of all sides of the building (labeled in fire-service notation a, b, c, d). Be sure to include utilities, lock boxes, standpipes, door locations, zone boundaries, hazardous materials, fire walls, roof access, stairwells, elevators, camera locations, security and fire control room(s), and water sources.

In addition to this plan, local safety officials should also have access to a map of the running route, building keys, and/or a key to a fire-service lock box that is attached to the building and contains building keys.

The “first-due” responder typically has 5 minutes between time of dispatch and arrival at the incident. As a facilities professional, no matter where else your attention is needed in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, be sure to make yourself known to the incident commander, Jelenewicz stresses. “Identify yourself. Ask what you can do to help. They’ll ask you questions to get the information they need to know, based on the situation,” he says. “Be available to them as a resource; if they don’t already have [building plans], you will be able to help them.”

You should be prepared to assist in answering questions like:

  • Where are the occupants? Are they all out of the building?
  • Which evacuation routes are available? Which are blocked?
  • Where are triage locations?
  • Has the building’s structural integrity changed in the building incident?
  • What is the mechanical status for water, power, and ventilation systems?
  • Is the sprinkler system activated?
  • Are the air-handler units shut down?
  • How do you control the fans for the smoke exhaust system?
  • Are toxic chemicals involved?
  • Are building systems operating to mitigate the incident?
  • Are sensor readings reliable, or is system status uncertain?
  • Which systems are still operating? Which systems have stopped reporting?

As buildings become increasingly automated - integrating systems that manage the environment, security, fire, energy, and even elevators - first responders are recognizing that such systems can process and store large amounts of potentially useful data.

Recent work at NIST has demonstrated the possibility of using building sensors and a decision support system to send information about a disaster (a developing building fire, for example) to first responders prior to their arrival at the building.

The key, researchers say, is to “provide responders with static (pre-plan) and dynamic (real-time) building information in a format that is readily understandable and universally accepted so that the use of the information becomes seamless and can be readily displayed on a computer screen.”

Robin Suttell (rsuttell@cox.net), Contributing Editor

 

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