Emergency Preparedness: Facility Professionals See Room for Improvement

Eighty-eight percent of facility management professionals consider their workplaces better prepared for an emergency situation than in 2001 — with fewer than 2% saying they are less prepared — according to the results of an International Facility Management Association emergency preparedness survey. Additionally, 91% report having emergency evacuation procedures in place, while 80% say their organization has a crisis communication and disaster recovery plan.

Conducted September 6-9, 2011, the survey features more than 400 facility managers’ responses to questions about their organizations’ current level of emergency preparedness. The results offer a snapshot of where disaster preparedness stands 10 years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

Since 2001, survey respondents report that their organizations have taken the following measures:

  • more formalized emergency preparedness planning (84%),
  • enhanced communications with staff (81%),
  • enhanced security measures (70%), and
  • increased simulation drills to test their plans (52%).

Others report increasing the number of personnel whose primary responsibility is business continuity planning, as well as planning more for natural disasters — such as hurricanes and earthquakes — in addition to man-made security threats.

“People are now more aware that both natural and man-made disasters happen frequently,” said a survey respondent, “and that emergency preparations are not ‘busy work’ or being done in vain.”

Some surveyed cite recent natural disasters as an opportunity to test the emergency preparedness plans they currently have in place.

“With Hurricane Irene going through our site, we had very little preparation to do because we have an emergency preparedness plan in place and just had to implement it,” said one facility manager. “It worked very well.”

The major obstacles respondents report in implementing emergency and disaster recovery plans are other priorities taking precedence (61%), lack of personnel (41%) and lack of funding (40%). Others note a sense of “complacency of end users, staff, and guests,” a “lack of a sense of urgency” and difficulty in getting everyone to “think emergency.”

“It is still difficult to engage the average employee on matters of preparedness and security under ‘normal’ operating conditions,” said a survey participant. “The further away we get from an emergency situation, the more resistance there is to preparation, drills, and recruitment of volunteers for disaster preparation.”

In spite of these obstacles, those surveyed largely report making progress in emergency preparedness and business continuity planning since 2001, while also noting there is more work to be done.

“Although we are better prepared for emergencies than 10 years ago, there is still plenty of room for improvement,” said one survey respondent. One response summarizes what many of those surveyed highlight as emergency preparedness best practices: “Find the best information available; get the support of top management; help your people implement the plan; keep on practicing the plan; and make adjustments as needed to keep it effective.”