Amping Up Your Emergency Preparedness

Feb. 21, 2013
If you have an emergency, what will the public and the occupants think of your preparedness plan?

Can you imagine a failure in your facility that lasts for just 34 minutes or so — but 108 million people are asking you what's wrong and when are you going to have it fixed?

That was the situation during the Super Bowl last month when a problem with the utility's switchgear reduced power to the New Orleans Superdome. Although backup power kept the facility from going totally dark, concourses were illuminated only by emergency lighting. The escalators and all but one elevator could not operate.

In the minds of most TV viewers, the resulting game delay will likely be eclipsed by the memory of the game's outcome. However, many of the Superdome's occupants that evening may have a different set of recollections, having undergone the potential dangers of a darkened, crowded building, not knowing the nature of the failure nor its outcome for them. Their experience was not the focus of media reports, but many occupants would have been concerned. Is the Superdome under some kind of attack? What happens if all power is lost? What is going to happen next? Answers to such questions came slowly for occupants and viewers.

While a larger stage for facility failure than the Super Bowl's power outage is hard to imagine, life safety risks are amped up for all FMs these days — including terrorism (the FBI investigated the Super Bowl incident to ensure there had been no foul plays), cyberterrorism, workplace violence, and suspect parcels. Whenever such events occur, the bar for the facility owner's emergency preparedness is raised. In the public's eye, the unexpected is pushed into the realm of the should-have-been-expected.

Few FMs will ever host an event with the immense audience and publicity of a Super Bowl. But then again, few will ever have the kind of super-scale event that deflects public attention from the occupants' unpleasant experience from a facility failure. If you have an emergency, what will the public and the occupants think of your preparedness plan?

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