Severe Weather Event Planning

Jan. 23, 2012
Eight tips for severe weather event planning.

Mother Nature can be both unpredictable and fickle. The most scientific forecasts often underestimate the severity of weather events, and storms can arrive at the worst business times.

Another factor is the needs of tenants and how they can respond to a weather emergency. Large tenants often have greater capacity to rely on other offices for support, while smaller tenants can be more vulnerable, making their continued operation in one location critical.

Every building owner should have a severe weather event plan in place that’s ready to implement with little advance warning. This practice mirrors all other emergency preparedness steps that are fundamental to life safety and building protection.

  1. Have an up-to-date list of your tenants and continuously test your ability to communicate with them in an emergency. Use applications that instantly transmit messages and weather advisories to all tenant subscribers via voicemail, email, and text messaging. Notifications are sent before, during, and after a storm. For use in an extreme emergency, these applications also have a reply feature that allows recipients to tell building staff that they are safe.
  2. In an announced weather event, check your lines of communication with the city’s emergency services contacts, including police and fire. Remember that these services should not be considered as a component of any building’s emergency staffing or operations plan. Rather, the property team must anticipate how these public agencies will expect, if not rely on, the preparation and assessments of the building personnel.
  3. Keep roofs and setbacks clean and clear, with any scaffolding or loose equipment securely tied down. Check storm drains to prevent ice build-up. Shut down all but the essential elevators midway in their hoistways to reduce the frequency of ropes rubbing and potentially becoming dislodged.
  4. Test all emergency backup equipment and systems on a preventive maintenance basis – especially lighting, fire alarms, and fire suppression equipment. This makes pre-storm preparation a review process, not a repair process. Ensure equipment works, adequate supplies are accessible, and generator fuel is on hand to last through the emergency and a potential post-storm power restoration period.
  5. Given the possibility that there will be no advance warning, battery back-up power is often mandated by law to service emergency systems, such as fire and smoke alarms, building corridor lighting, exit signs, and security cameras. Make sure the batteries are fresh and the equipment is tested on a regular schedule.
  6. Make sure your energy management software is functioning properly before a storm and monitor the system for any sudden spikes in gas or steam consumption. An unusual change in flow could be a sign of a pipe leak that requires immediate action.
  7. If necessary, call in extra operations and security staff. You should also retain a 24/7 disaster recovery company to assist with any immediate storm damage remediation services. For example, a storm could damage or crack your windows, causing interior damage that must be addressed.
  8. Transportation is always affected but easily overlooked unless it is part of a response plan. Monitor the status of mass transit services and roadways in order to issue advisories to tenants so they have the best information to decide how to operate their businesses.

Ultimately, property managers may have to decide whether to shut down their buildings altogether. Act on city recommendations and follow any directives from life safety authorities as you would during any other type of emergency.

Proactive action plans primarily focus on efficient planning and communication. Respect for Mother Nature and thorough planning by the entire property team will ensure that your properties and tenants are prepared for the expected and unexpected.

Hani J. Salama, P.E., LEED AP, is the SVP of property management and operations for Monday Properties. He can be reached at [email protected].

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