Weatherize Your Emergency Management Plan

Oct. 3, 2011
Severe weather – including hurricanes, tornados, tropical storms, floods, hail storms, and blizzards – creates unique challenges that emergency management plans should address.  These four basic steps will help you to weatherize your plan.

Weatherizing your emergency management plan is a crucial step for any facility. When Hurricane Irene was en route to the East Coast, everyone got ready. Property managers and security directors readied buildings and debated the conditions that might cause them to close. Some businesses put employees to work from home. Larger companies moved critical operations to other offices outside the storm’s path while others took a couple days off.

Despite these precautions to limit injuries and property damage, analysts estimate that Hurricane Irene will eventually rank among the top 10 most expensive disasters in the nation’s history.

Irene’s message is important – severe weather, including hurricanes, tropical storms, floods, and blizzards, creates unique challenges that emergency management plans should address.  These four basic steps will help you to weatherize your plan.

1) Check Your Risk Assessment
If you have commissioned a security risk assessment in the past, make sure it addresses severe weather.

“It should also evaluate the structural integrity of the building,” says James Leflar, Jr., CPP, CBC, chair of the ASIS International Crisis Management and Business Continuity Council. “What risks exist around the building?  For example, if the streets flood, people won’t be able to get to the building even if it is fine.”

After identifying your building’s unique risk factors, the report should account for specific variables such as:

·         Architectural or property features vulnerable to severe weather

·         Your location and proximity to bodies of water that might flood

·         An architect’s specifications for wind resistance

·         If wind speed or flying debris can blow out your windows

·         How heavy snow affects your building’s structural integrity

Leflar notes that property managers and security directors should continually watch for new risks and re-assess existing risks. 

2) Tap Available Resources
A variety of resources can help assess and mitigate weather risks. For instance, check www.fema.gov, the Federal Emergency Management Agency website. Click the “Plan and Prepare” button on the home page, and you’ll find a page with emergency management advice concerning a long list of hazards and emergencies, including all kinds of severe weather.

State and local governments have emergency management agencies too. They will provide advice tailored to the specific weather risks in your region.

3) Mitigate Risks
Along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, many buildings have high-impact glass. But buildings designed for other environments usually don’t have the budget to redo glass after an event that happens once every 30 years. Even protective storm shutters could break the budget too.

Since 1995, Mike Fickes has contributed over 200 security articles to publications covering hotel, industrial, office, retail, critical infrastructure, and education. His interests include security management, policies, strategies, and technologies.

What to do?  Consider the various ways equipment can be damaged and move items to a secure location.

“Put seals around the doors and make sure the windows are secured,” says Leflar. “This won’t solve all problems, but it will help. If you’re worried about the windows, move computers and valuable data to interior offices and close the doors of the window offices.”

Leflar adds, “Don’t use the floor to store the computers that you move. If a window breaks and water does come in, equipment sitting on a table or desk won’t get wet.”

Do you have an underground garage? If it is prone to flooding during heavy rain, you should have a plan for closing it and directing tenants to other parking garages.

Don’t forget to share your assessment and mitigation plans with tenants. “While national tenants may have experience with emergency response planning, most will not,” says Leflar. “Any advice an owner or property manager can provide will help. Discussing your emergency planning with tenants can also help establish the lines of communication that will be critical during any kind of emergency.”

4) Ensure Communication
Decisions to close a building or remain open are usually made by property managers in concert with tenants.

“In command centers during hurricanes in Houston, there is a serious focus on employee safety in deciding when it is time to send employees home,” says Don Greenwood, founder and president of Houston-based Don Greenwood & Associates, Inc., a security consultancy. “Typically, they will have phone numbers for other downtown buildings, and they continually update each other on building closures across the city.”

Mass notification technology is ideal for weather-related messages and updates on a building’s status, blasting emails and voice mails to personal computers, cell phones, smart phones, and landlines. The building’s website is another outlet for emergency weather information.

Lacking technology, old-fashioned phone trees still work. In a typical phone tree, a property management firm responsible for a number of buildings in the city calls on site managers, who call tenants, who call employees, who call other employees

Today’s phone trees must include cell as well as landline numbers. In addition, it is wise to supplement the phone tree with an email tree.

While there are many areas to evaluate, remember to reach out to area experts for assistance.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and there is always something new to think about,” Leflar says. “Part of any emergency communication effort is building a network of professionals that you can rely on. Before, during, and after an emergency, don’t hesitate to call and ask for advice.”

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