BOMA International has been working swiftly to collect and provide information on building security and tenant safety to the association's members and tenants of commercial buildings, especially in light of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. The following information comes from a number of authoritative sources, including the collective wisdom of BOMA International's local associations in 106 locations in North America, and abroad.
For the purposes of this article, an emergency is any event that jeopardizes the occupants, the contents, and/or the physical structure of a building. This definition covers a broad spectrum of possible occurrences, both natural and human-based in nature. While bomb threats, crime, terrorism, and civil disturbances are the emergencies most commonly considered security-related, a disaster could just as likely involve fire (arson), vehicular incidents, building system interruption, or hazardous materials incidents. By addressing security, emergency, and recovery planning issues at the same time, it is possible to eliminate some unnecessary overlap and repetition. This should lead to a comprehensive plan, which reduces the threat of emergencies through prevention, early detection, notification, effective evacuation or relocation measures, control/mitigation, and recovery operations.
Why Do I Need A Plan?
An effective emergency plan can prevent incidents from becoming significant. When significant emergencies have occurred, the lack of a planned response or the failure of people or building systems to respond as planned have frequently been contributing factors.
Actions taken in an emergency are rarely effective unless they are planned in advance. The longer it takes people to react effectively, the greater the potential for significant losses. In the event of an emergency, improper or nonexistent emergency plans can make a bad situation worse. Prior planning can prevent poor performance.
Finally, it may be best to develop an emergency plan for the following reason - it's the law. In some cases, emergency plans may be required be any of the following entities: federal, state, or local regulatory agencies; corporate policy; insurance companies; or certain types of tenants. For example, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) requires all federal agencies to develop an emergency plan. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) also requires emergency action plans for workplaces with more than 10 employees.
The Goals of Emergency Planning
It is extremely important to identify the goals of an emergency plan at the outset of the planning process. These goals will form the foundation of the entire plan through development, implementation, and maintenance. One of the main goals of any emergency plan should be to minimize the emergency's impact on the building, its occupants, and contents - including both physical property and business operations. To achieve this goal, an emergency plan must specify the actions to be taken prior to, during, and after the types of emergencies that can be anticipated.
The goals of a specific plan will vary depending on the facility. However, certain goals should be part of any emergency plan.
Plans that are poorly designed, poorly implemented, and/or poorly maintained never work. However, when a good emergency plan exists, people are confident that it will work. If people believe in the plan, they will follow it and will look to designated personnel for guidance. The plan will work as designed.
With no emergency plan, or with one that is poorly designed or executed, people will perceive that they are on their own. If building occupants are not familiar with the plan, they will be unsure of how they should respond in an emergency.
BOMA International has begun posting this information at the new Emergency Resource Center located on the web (www.boma.org/emergency) to help people review building security and emergency preparedness issues.
Much of the information being made available by BOMA is drawn from the association's recently published guide called, Are Your Tenants Safe? BOMA's Guide to Security and Emergency Planning, which is a second update to the original guide. The book outlines procedures for creating an emergency plan, considerations for specific types of emergencies and security threats, security planning, choosing a security methodology, and release of information when a crisis occurs.
BOMA International President Sherwood Johnston III issued the following statement regarding the tragic events of September 11: "These events go to the very core of our humanity. To all of those people directly affected by these terrorist attacks, we extend our heartfelt sympathies. These events have changed us all. We need to pause and reflect on what has happened, and remember the greatness of our nation as we come together to support those in mourning, and to help rebuild. We will do everything possible as an association representing building owners and managers to help people affected by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In the days and weeks ahead, we will concentrate on helping to restore a full sense of security in America's workplaces."
More information about security and safety issues is available on the
BOMA International website (www.boma.org/emergency).