With talk of a potential pandemic Avian flu outbreak playing heavily in the media, Washington, D.C.-based BOMA Intl. is preparing its members for such a disaster.
Avian influenza (AI), or “bird flu,” is caused by a virus that occurs naturally in birds. Wild birds carry the virus, but do not usually get sick. However, this virus can be devastating to domestic birds, including chickens, ducks, and turkeys. The virus is transmitted via a bird’s saliva, nasal secretions, or feces. Domesticated birds may become infected with the virus through direct contact with infected waterfowl or other infected poultry, or through contact with cages or water and feed that have been contaminated with the virus.
Although the virus does not typically infect humans, there have been several cases reported worldwide since 1997. Most AI cases in humans have resulted from direct contact with infected poultry or surfaces contaminated with secretion/excretion from infected birds. Traditionally, the virus requires a host (such as swine) for incubation before it can be transmitted to another mammal; however, the current threat stemming from the H5N1 subtype of the virus does not. Human-to-human transmission is rare and has not been observed to continue beyond one person. As this issue continues to be sensationalized by the media, it is important for building owners and managers to keep in mind that this virus is still very much an animal disease.
So, what is the federal government doing in response to the AI threat? In November 2005, President George W. Bush released the National Strategy for Pandemic Influenza, which provides a high-level overview of the federal approach to preparing for a pandemic and the expectations of local and state governments to prepare themselves and their communities. The strategy’s goals are to stop, slow, or limit the spread of a possible pandemic in the United States; limit disease, suffering, and death; and sustain infrastructure and lessen the impact to the economy and the functioning of society.
The frontline plan calls for the federal government to collaborate with other countries to contain the virus, thus delaying (or even preventing) its introduction into the United States. If this effort fails, the plan emphasizes that responding to a domestic, uncontained pandemic will require the full participation of all levels of government and all segments of society; this includes the commercial real estate industry.
BOMA Intl. encourages its members to develop comprehensive emergency-preparedness plans for each building that they own or manage and to update those plans on a regular basis. Consider using property-management guides such as Are Your Tenants Safe? BOMA’s Guide to Security and Emergency Planning and The Property Professional’s Guide to Emergency Preparedness - both can be found at (www.boma.org).
As with any emergency, it is important to begin planning immediately, before it becomes a threat. Commercial property professionals must ensure that emergency strategies evolve with the ever-changing dynamics of the business environment. Consider these questions: Do you have a plan? When was the last time that you looked at the plan? Are all involved parties aware that the plan exists and of their respective roles? Have you practiced your plan? A successful emergency-preparedness plan is a “living” document that needs constant review.
Each commercial facility will have a different set of goals in its emergency plan. At the very least, each plan should include the following goals: life safety, property protection, occupant confidence, personal emergency plans, and simplicity. The life-safety goal will influence many factors in the planning process and is the thrust of any plan; tenants/occupants want a secure workplace, and it is your responsibility to provide it. The second goal of any plan should be to protect property, including the building itself and its contents.
If an emergency plan is to function as designed, tenants/occupants must believe that it is effective and that it will work in an emergency. Occupant confidence should be reinforced throughout the planning process and the life of the plan. Even with the most comprehensive building emergency plan, occupants should know that individual emergency planning is also essential. Tenants should develop contingency plans for locating and reuniting with family members, and shelter-in-place plans in the event that emergency response is delayed.
To be successful, any emergency plan should be simple to understand and use; training should be tailored to the level of knowledge needed by each user. There are many levels to a comprehensive plan, and building occupants should be given a general understanding of the organizational response to assuage any fears and ensure that the plan will function smoothly.
In addition to the two guides mentioned earlier, BOMA has included pandemic-flu resources on its website. The organization also encourages property owners and managers to monitor local and national media, look for information on local and state government websites (many of which have developed their own pandemic-response plans), and to consider talking to local healthcare providers and public health officials. Individual building preparedness represents an integral part in the overall plan to safeguard lives if such an emergency were to arise.
For more information on these and other issues, call BOMA Intl. at (202) 408-2662 or visit (www.boma.org).