Surviving a natural disaster takes extensive preparation, a skilled team behind you and the ability to pivot as circumstances dictate. Can your building stand up against hurricanes, earthquakes or blizzards?
Set Your Priorities in Case of a Natural Disaster
Being proactive is crucial for buildings at risk for natural disasters. Every disaster plan should focus on the same four things regardless of storm risks or building type: people safety, property safety, business continuity and vendor partnership, according to Michael Bodendorf, Senior Vice President of Property Management for Realterm, during an educational session at the 2018 BOMA International Conference & Expo.
People safety requires making sure facility and property managers have up-to-date contact information for tenants, all tenants have the appropriate emergency contact information and existing vendor agreements are ready to go at any hour, Bodendorf explains. Property safety requires having facilities experts on call during storms to monitor and manage any building system if something needs to be shut down ahead of time or equipment is damaged.
Business continuity can be a difficult proposition depending on the type of building, Bodendorf adds. For example, it’s much easier for most office workers to work remotely than it is for people in an industrial building, where work tends to require hands-on physical labor that’s not easy to do remotely. “How are we meeting with tenants? Do we understand what their business continuity plan is? Can they afford to be out of their space if there’s an earthquake and structural issues won’t allow them back in the building?” Bodendorf says. “Sitting down with your tenants and understanding their plans is an important part of planning.”
Vendor partnerships are a vital part of getting a damaged building up and running again, Bodendorf adds. “You’ve got to have great vendors who understand what to do when things go bad. If you have properties in Orlando and you’re sitting in Fort Lauderdale, and you don’t know local structural engineers or architects and the one guy you do know has 16 other properties to take care of, you’re in trouble,” Bodendorf says. “Take the extra time, put in the extra effort and prepare for these things.”
Related: Emergency Management Planning
7 Steps for Natural Disaster Response
Isabel Pacheco, Director of Risk Management for Realterm, recommends a seven-step process for preparing for and responding to any natural disaster threat:
- Understand the risk. Snow means a risk of mounding or drifting snow on your roof, for instance. An earthquake could easily cause structural damage.
- Determine which of your locations could be affected by a natural disaster. Are some portions of your portfolio affected by certain types of weather?
- Assess the upcoming threat. For each type of weather threat, what could happen to your building? Snow could make the roof collapse, while hurricanes could lead to wind uplift, downed power lines and flooding. What strength is forecasted for a hurricane or tornado, and what thickness of plywood is recommended to bolster windows against a storm of that magnitude?
- Ensure life safety: Prepare to shelter in place or evacuate as necessary. Be sure you have adequate supplies on hand for either outcome, such as fresh water and basic first aid kits.
- Activate the emergency response plan: For an incoming earthquake, for instance, anchor or brace furniture, equipment and piping. Install seismic gas shutoff valves if you can, says Allen Loechert, Senior Vice President for Aon Risk Solutions. If you don’t and the gas line breaks, you’re risking fire damage on top of the damage from the actual natural disaster.
- Contact local safety and emergency services.
- Notify key contacts, like vendors that you have pre-existing cleanup partnerships with.
After the Natural Disaster
When natural disaster cleanup starts and your vendor partnerships are in place, it’s important to keep your insurance team updated, says Loechert. Pacheco recommends frequently updating your insurance rep to avoid unpleasant surprises at the end of the repair and cleanup period - you don’t want to be surprised by a repair that’s not covered by insurance later.
“Your broker’s here to help you. We’re on your team,” Loechert explains. “It’s important that the service provider you choose is giving you the right level of support. Every loss is different and navigating through that process isn’t always the same, so have some support to help pull information together or whatever you might need. At the end of the day, we want to make sure we’re getting your losses settled as quickly as we can. Make sure you’re leaning on your service providers.”
Janelle Penny firstname.lastname@example.org is Senior Editor of BUILDINGS.
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