Define. Plan. Train. - Part 1 of 7

Nov. 15, 2001
SPECIAL REPORT: 10 Considerations to Disaster Preparedness and Recovery

By Jana J. Madsen, Linda K. Monroe, Regina Raiford, and Clara M.W. Vangen

Proactive approaches to emergency planning are more than just responsible or mandatory - they're smart. It's a lesson learned too late when damage to property, lost data, or, worse yet, loss of life could have been prevented through preparedness planning. To get you started, Buildings magazine has collected some of the best resources available in an effort to help you manage all kinds of emergencies. The following 10 considerations will help you build a strategy to protect valuable assets (occupants, information, and the facility), while minimizing damage from inevitable disasters.

1. Know Thyself:
Develop an Emergency Preparedness Plan

User-friendly plans, with brevity and clarity, are key. Manageable levels of information are an assurance an emergency preparedness plan will be used.

Not convinced? Emergency plans may be required for federal, state, or local regulatory agencies; corporate policy; insurance companies; or certain types of tenants. For instance,

• The U.S. General Services Administration requires all federal agencies to develop an emergency plan, usually outlining organization structure, standardized duties, and incident-specific procedures.
• The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) requires a written "emergency action plan" for facilities with more than 10 employees. While steps of compliance are currently documented, they leave open various interpretations. That may change, says David A. Casavant, president of The Carlyle Group, Lake Worth, FL, "I would predict [OSHA representatives] will look more closely at emergency evacuation plans, as well as safety training exercises, during random audits. I recently sent e-mails to facilities management contacts, and only about [one-fourth] of them indicated they had performed an emergency evacuation test in the last six months."
• Although emergency plans are not required, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 does caution that policies and procedures must not discriminate on the basis of disability. At the same time, an existing or new plan must include specifics on how persons with disabilities will be included.
• Lastly, some state and local jurisdictions require an emergency plan for buildings of a certain size or those housing certain groups.
What constitutes an emergency procedures plan? Chicago-based Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM) notes such a plan involves five steps:

A.Identify potential emergencies.

Any event or occurrence that disrupts the normal flow of a property's operations, especially one that results in damage to a building and danger to its occupants or the public, is an emergency. This means such natural disasters as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, storms, and drought, and such manmade emergencies as arson and fire-related accidents, theft and robbery, assault, bomb threats, civil disturbances, hostage situations, medical crises, chemical spills, and environmental accidents.

B.Identify factors that affect the probability of emergencies.

A building's geographic location; its immediate environment (neighborhood or proximity to a sensitive business); the property's usage (residential buildings vs. office facilities vs. retail/shopping center, etc.); the occupant mix (commercial tenants, corporate employees, resident profiles, etc.); the structure's size and construction (larger buildings require a more complex strategy; different building materials withstand situations in various ways; and hazardous materials handling may impact potential emergency situations). See "#2 Conduct a Vulnerability Analysis," page 30.

C.Adopt preventive measures.

One of the best ways of making a property less vulnerable to crime and vandalism and more secure in natural disasters is to create an emergency prevention checklist. IREM suggests:

• Post signs by wet floors, open holes, and defects in floors and floorcoverings.
• Avoid the use of extension cords.
• Do not overload electrical outlets.
• Keep all vehicles fueled and in good repair.
• Keep all doorways, aisles, and hallways clear for easy egress.
• Store heavy items on lower shelves.
• Install clips and latches on cabinet doors.
• Secure bolts or fasteners or both on ventilator hoods and fans.
• Make sure all stairwells and elevators have emergency lighting that is in good working condition.
• Install fire alarm systems, fire extinguishers, and smoke and heat detectors.
• Use tempered glass on balcony and shower doors.
• Keep all valves, switches, drains, and sewage plugs clear of sand, dirt, rocks, and debris.
• Regularly inspect housekeeping and storage areas to make sure they are clear of combustible items and hazardous materials.
• Wherever possible, use timer devices on appliances to make sure all alliances are off when not in use (and, especially, when the building or sections of a building are closed).
• In smoking areas, train staff to observe sensible habits and never empty ashtrays in wastebaskets (or dispose of paper in ashtrays).
• Prominently post "No Smoking" signs, where appropriate.
• Conduct drills annually, or as required by local laws.
• Install smoke detectors or sprinkler systems (or both) in accordance with local statues.
• Report any abandoned cars in a building's parking lot.

D.Prepare for an emergency.

Four steps are essential:

Know the community. Use such community resources as the National Weather Service, the local police department, the fire department, etc. to compile a list of potential emergencies.
Prepare the staff. Once the types of potential emergencies are determined, specific duties and responsibilities of each member of the staff must be detailed. Don't hesitate to train, train, train. Repetition results in confidence when a real emergency occurs.
Maintain accurate records. These include a complete description of the property and blueprints, including locations of egress, mechanical equipment, life-safety equipment, etc.; and comprehensive tenant/employee/resident files, covering vacant areas and occupants who may need additional help in an evacuation. Several sets of all records should be kept: one on-site; one off-site but readily accessible; and others distributed to each member of the primary emergency team. IREM suggests investing in an information vault at the entrance to a building, with keys provided to fire and police personnel.
Stock emergency equipment and supplies. Anything - from flashlights and a first-aid kit to a bullhorn, collapsible wheelchair, and drinking water - should be stocked in a location that is easily accessible to the management staff. Remember to clearly instruct staff where that location may be.

E. Respond to the emergency.

Even with intense preparation, an actual emergency can catch a staff off guard. Three important actions in response:

Alert the emergency management team. Here, a well-developed communication network of beepers, two-way radios, or cellular phones is essential.
Alert occupants. Depending upon the type of property, number of people within the property and those on the management team, and the type of emergency, a number of options are available. However, this communication is the most important aspect of the emergency plan and needs to address who and how this will be done.
Look after the needs of occupants. When disaster strikes, management must be prepared to do everything to make occupants and others as safe as possible. With major crises, this assistance may come from the community in the way of disaster aid. Representatives of these organizations should be contacted when a plan is prepared so management knows that services each can provide.

SOURCES: Before Disaster Strikes: Developing an Emergency Procedures Manual, Institute of Real Estate Management (; Are Your Tenants Safe? BOMA's Guide to Security and Emergency Planning, Building Owners and Managers Association International (

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