Disaster Recovery: Confidence in Crisis (2 of 7)

April 3, 2006

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Securing the Site

In the past, many communities believed that crises would only occur within companies that performed high-risk activities. Recent weather- and power-related emergencies, however, have proven that anything which disrupts the routine or competitive position of a company can be labeled as a crisis. Among the many elements of recovery efforts - particularly once facilities professionals have ensured that all building occupants have been accounted for - are procedures that prevent unauthorized access and protect vital records and property; in a word: security.

According to the Emergency Management Guide for Business & Industry - an in-depth reference sponsored by a public-private partnership between the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Novato, CA-based Fireman’s Fund - isolation of the incident scene must begin when the emergency is discovered. If possible, the discoverer should attempt to secure the scene and control access, but no one should be placed in physical danger to perform these functions. Basic security measures include:

  • Closing doors and windows.
  • Establishing temporary barriers with furniture after people have safely evacuated.
  • Dropping containment materials (sorbent pads, etc.) in the path of leaking materials.
  • Closing file cabinets and desk drawers.

One of the first determinations will be conducted by the fire department and municipal engineers in declaring whether a structure is safe to enter. The FEMA/Fireman’s Fund report goes on to explain that only trained personnel should be allowed to perform advanced security measures, allowing access only to persons directly involved in the response.

One of those individuals might be a professional like Dino Iuliano, vice president of operations at Planned Security Services Inc., a subsidiary of The Planned Cos. (www.plannedcompanies.com), Fairfield, NJ. “One of the first things we would do is assess the building and structure to look for any vulnerable areas that could harm people or property,” he explains. “If it was an area that needed to be completely sealed off, we would do so by either boarding or locking it. Depending on the damage to the structure, that might require putting up a fence line. In contrast, if the site required access, we would post an officer there to ensure that no one could access a [dangerous] area.”

Iuliano notes that emergency situations are unpredictable. Areas that were once secured may now be open (i.e. door locks may not be working if electrical power is lost). Once a building becomes vulnerable, there’s a possibility that undesirable people might enter a structure to loot, vandalize, or cause other problems. “Roving patrols for both the building’s exterior and interior ensure that unauthorized people aren’t causing more damage or more harm to the facility,” he says. Of particular concern are the boiler room, electrical closets, and back-up generators; all could cause further problems (fire, for instance), but, more often, can assist efforts if they are operational. “Flashlights, back-up food, and water become very valuable during an emergency and must be secured,” he adds.

John Nolan, a security consultant from Waldorf, MD, concurs with this assessment, noting the importance of “a safe proximal location [for] building occupants.” He recommends a nearby covered parking garage as a rallying point: “You can probably work out an arrangement to store some water and comfort items there as well.”

Most importantly, however, is communicating with building occupants - through an established security-procedures plan and training at least once per year in anticipation of some type of risk, as well as on-site through concise status reports and updates - and working closely with local authorities. “We usually set up a liaison with the local police and fire departments, and touch base with local hospitals on a regular basis, to establish both a communications link pre-disaster and discuss plans and procedures,” says Iuliano. “Once disaster strikes, everyone is on board and you don’t find yourself surprised or in unfamiliar territory.”

One key planning element for facilities professionals, according to Nolan, is to do a full “after-action report after every building incident, whether that be a power failure on one floor or a full-building fire. In [conducting] an after-action study, facilities professionals can take information gained during an incident and use that as part of their ongoing planning. Although a lot of little symptoms will pop up and may not seem very significant [separately], added together they are going to make a big difference.”

Linda K. Monroe ([email protected]), Editorial Director

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