Services & Maintenance: Call To Action - Facility Executive Magazine - Creating Intelligent Buildings

The effectiveness of an emergency response plan relies heavily on team members knowing their roles.
The effectiveness of an emergency response plan relies heavily on team members knowing their roles.

Services & Maintenance: Call To Action

Services & Maintenance: Call To Action - Facility Executive Magazine - Creating Intelligent Buildings

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By Stevan P. Layne, CPP, CIPM
Published in the January 2009 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Earthquakes happen. So do tornados, hurricanes, power outages, floods, structural failures, explosions, armed assaults, and plagues of locusts. It all depends, one would suppose, on who or what force is aggravated. When a building starts filling with smoke (or water) or any one of a myriad of other unplanned incidents occurs, the outcome may well depend on how the organization’s emergency management team has done its job.

Emergency management planning may be the buzz phrase of the moment—with good reason. An organization has to have a plan, and this doesn’t mean putting a bunch of words on paper. File cabinets are full of those types of plans. When the water is rising all around, it is too late to go digging for a binder.

Emergency Planning: What’s Holding You Back?

By Victoria Hardy, CFM, CFMJ

In January 2008, TFM featured an article containing results of a survey about the involvement of facility management (FM) professionals in emergency planning as well as the status of their preparedness plans [“Emergency Measures In A Post 9/11 World”].This article is a follow up, with the research team presenting a snapshot of its most recent survey on the subject. In addition to the author, research team members were Suzanne Kennedy, CFM, professor and department head, Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, MA and Kathy O. Roper, CFM, CFMJ, MCR, LEED AP, professor, Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA. Research assistant was Traci DiSalvatore.

What We Know

On 9/11, more than 18,000 people evacuated safely from the World Trade Center complex in the one hour, 42 minutes, and five seconds between the first jet hitting the Towers and the last building to collapse.

In the immediate two months following the disaster, investigative reporters documented the key elements, which profiled why so many were able to survive this event. The findings were later validated in “The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States” (2004. Authorized First Edition: W. W. Norton & Company, New York, NY), which showed that the evacuation was a success. While 99% of the people above the floors struck by the jets died, 95% of the people below (and sometimes on) those floors survived. More than 479 rescue workers also died in theirattempts to fight the fires and evacuate building occupants. This expeditious evacuation was no accident; it happened because of significant changes made by the Port Authority in response to the bombings in 1993, “and by the training of both Port Authority personnel and civilians after that time.” (Commission, 316)

From 2004 to 2006, anecdotal evidence collected by the survey authors gave a sense that perhaps planning—especially for total building evacuations—had stalled since 9/11. When facility executives were specifically asked about evacuation drill plans, there would be some “yes” and some “no” answers. Continuity planning was frequently “clarified,” “we are working on it,” or “it is in progress.”

So a determination was made by the research team in 2007 to explore the reality of these key elements of emergency planning. The goal of the process was to determine if, in fact, the anecdotal evidence was a better picture of the state of evacuation planning than might be evidenced in business reports.

The results (as presented in TFM January 2008), especially in light of the findings of the 9/11 Commission, were distressing at best, and a warning at worst of significant potential problems. The survey results were summarized by the answer to question 14: “In your opinion, how adequate is your disaster recovery plan?” Of the total respondents, more than 47% indicated that their plans were either “somewhat” or “not very adequate.”

When this query was correlated to questions two and four (which confirmed that the FM operations were primarily responsible for this function), it became even more clear that facility professionals have the opportunity to address evacuation and disaster recovery planning, but in many cases, are not stepping up to this responsibility.

This was a difficult finding for the research team, but it was important information to share with the FM community. The planning conducted in 1993 by the Port Authority building team resulted in saving thousands of lives. The results speak again for themselves; 95% of the people below where the planes hit the WTC on 9/11 evacuated safely.

It was clear to the research team that further work was needed to determine why the survey garnered the results that it did. And it was determined that a follow up survey to the 100 facility executives who participated in the first research project could shed some light on what the barriers to better planning and implementation of emergency and disaster recovery processes were. Therefore, a new survey was administered in Spring 2008 to the same sample.

The 2008 Results

Question five of the new survey went to the heart of the problem: “What did the respondents consider the major obstacles to implementing emergency and disaster recovery plans within their organizations? ”Surprisingly, only 12.2% felt that “lack of funding” was the cause; 36.5% indicated a “lack of personnel to execute plans” as the primary issue. But 56.8% identified “other priorities take precedence” as the main factor. The balance of the sample (27%) listed a wide variety of company specific reasons, including eight respondents who had “no barriers.”

Typical of the remarks in this section were several notes about issues of territoriality and “silo” problems. It was difficult for the research team to understand why any other priority could be ultimately more important than saving the lives of employees, but that seemed to be the unfortunate inference from this question. Money and personnel were running a close second.

Question six then asked what methods the successful facility managers (fms) used to overcome the obstacles to effective planning in this critical area. More than half of the respondents indicated that they met with senior management to explain the impact and combined that with using news, other data, and benchmarks from other companies to support their conversations. But 28.9% of the survey sample felt that they had not overcome the obstacles yet.

Finally, question seven asked what measures would help the fms in the implementation of better emergency/disaster recovery planning (they were asked to select all that would be helpful). More than half of the respondents indicated that benchmarking data and educational tools would be very important.

Surprisingly, almost 54% of the sample felt that “regulatory requirements for emergency evacuation/disaster recovery plans and practice” would be effective in helping to overcome the barriers to moving forward. The inference here was that if any outside authority or agency was to “require” such plans and drills, more attention would be paid to this process by senior management.

It seems the focus remains on how to do what needs to be done, with economic restrictions still impeding many organizations. It should also be noted that another strategic implication of these results is the need for benchmarking data and educational tools to support the fms in their quest to create and implement better emergency/disaster recovery plans and practices.

Unfortunately, as can be seen from the survey results, the answers to some of the questions are still not complete, more than seven years after 9/11.The most important element of implementation of emergency strategies is the commitment of executive level management to the program, the concepts, the responses, and the financial resources to accomplish the plan. But the FM team must take the responsibility for keeping these issues in front of the boardroom occupants until the FM team issatisfied it is ready and equipped to handle a catastrophic building loss.The new standard for all fms to consider is whether or not their organizations could withstand the events of 9/11. Fms should evaluate how their emergency and continuity plans would hold up in that respect.

Hardy, CFM, CFMJ is the CEO of the Star Island Corporation in Portsmouth, NH, a not-for-profit that manages a 35 building conference complex. Previously, she served as the academic department head of design and facilities at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, MA. Before joining academia, Hardy spent 20 years managing facilities and consulting in the arts and entertainment industry. She holds a B.Sc., a Master’s Degree in Management, and is a graduate of the Stanford Management Development Program.

That means the plan has to be a practical, easily accessed, easily understood outline. It needs to provide direction to those who are intimately familiar with its contents as well as to those who don’t have a clue, didn’t pay attention when it was published, or may be new to the organization and didn’t know there was a plan. Either way, their survival may be dependent on who does what and when.

The elements for most plans, regardless of the size and scope of an organization, are similar. The plan begins with both long-term and short-term objectives, which, above all, should be the life safety of every employee, visitor, contractor, and other occupant of the facility. It should follow with the protection of assets. It may include safeguarding, or at least notification, of related properties.

Who’s On First?

In creating an emergency management plan, the organization needs a chart showing a direct line of authority. On any given day, key players need to know who is in charge, who has the authority to initiate an evacuation, or who may call in off-duty staff. The line of authority may be determined by a schedule, the entity’s table of organization, or a pre-determined list. Regardless of who is designated as “in charge,” that person must be available immediately through a secure form of communication.

Emergency management is a team effort. In smaller organizations, the size and makeup of the team may be reduced, but several functions need to be performed. Regardless of whether the same person fills several roles, these positions, classified by task, should be designated to the team:

• Facilities Management (FM)
• Human Resources
• Business Management
• Business Continuity
• Security and Safety
• Information Technology (IT)/ Records
• Finance

Each of these positions has a series of tasks that must be predetermined, coordinated, and made a part of the emergency management plan. The depth and scope of the task will be determined by the nature of the organization and its operational environment.

These documents should be made available to all managers and distributed to emergency response agencies. Decision makers should also have copies accessible even when they are off the property.

FM is responsible for all things related to the physical plant. The location and status of operating systems, especially utilities, must be indicated on easily accessed documents. Some government agencies designate these as structural fire plans or building emergency plans. It requires the production of basic floor layouts that show the locations of vital elements such as stairways, perimeter doors, utility shut-off equipment, fire suppression control valves, system control panels, evacuation routes, fire extinguishers, fire hydrants and/or hose connections, “safe rooms,” emergency medical supplies, and other emergency supplies.

Human resource management is responsible for all elements related to staffing, counseling, emergency notification, maintenance of rosters, and personnel information. It may be necessary to call staff, locate relatives, or determine who on staff has additional skills that can be applied in an emergency.

Business management is key. Regardless of the severity of the emergency, continued operations must be considered. This requires an astute strategy that includes continuity planning, funding sources, vendor selection and contracts during emergency operations, and safeguarding of business, IT, and other records.

In terms of business continuity, advance arrangements may require separate assignment of an individual to several activities. These may include transportation of assets and personnel, asset protection in a temporary site, use of remote storage, establishment of communications, and securing of other services (e.g., Internet access).

When it comes to security and safety, issues regarding security staffing, electronic systems, emergency response coordination, and asset protection must be well thought out, planned, and rehearsed. It is important to include local response agencies in the plan’s distribution list, as well as in hands-on training. The security manager, or other person responsible for security, is a vital link between emergency agencies, alarm services, and security staff at the facility, in transit, and at any additional sites used by the organization.

In planning for IT technology/record concerns, protection of the IT equipment is vital to continued operations of core functions. It is not only necessary to protect the equipment but also the records produced. These may include payroll (without it, there is no workforce), time and attendance, contracts, and company archives. IT must be protected in place or moved to a secure location.

Even in times of crisis, finance needs must be met. During an emergency, the normal means of obtaining funds may be limited or even eliminated. The financial manager must plan ahead for use of temporary funds, temporary credit, or some means of ensuring the organization can continue to operate without having its normal banking capabilities available.

How Will It Play Out?

With the team in place, initial meetings should be conducted to ensure members understand their role and are prepared to initiate his or her part of the planning process. This will probably include assessing available assets, budgeting for emergency operations, and coordinating elements that transcend from one department to another.

And there are additional roles that need to be filled by other staff. Each department should advise the emergency management team of its prioritized needs in safeguarding property or records. Special provisions need to be made to care for and transport disabled staff or visitors. All staff should have assigned roles to assist in an evacuation. Staff members should also know the procedures for initiating a lockdown or protecting in place, should intruders threaten persons in the facility.

Once the emergency plan is outlined, published, and discussed, there should be regular exercises to determine its effectiveness. These usually begin with tabletop exercises in which realistic scenarios are presented and dealt with by designated participants in a written exercise. Tabletops are followed by the real thing. Walkthrough exercises involving every aspect of the facility’s staff should be conducted with the participation of response agencies.

Emergency management plans are fluid documents. Changing environments, staff levels, and situations may all warrant flexibility. Success not only depends on having a plan, but developing the emergency management team into a cohesive, responsive unit. And one final thought, what would happen if key members of the emergency management team were rendered helpless or unavailable?

Layne, CPP, CIPM is CEO and principal consultant for Layne Consultants International, with corporate offices in Denver, CO. He is also founding director of the International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection (IFCPP). A former police chief, public safety director, and institutional security director, he serves on national committees for the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS), American Association of Museums (AAM), and IFCPP.

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