Professional Development: Creating A Plan For Disaster

By Tony Rankin
Published in the July 2009 issue of
Today’s Facility Manager

Facility managers (fms) need to be ready in the event that a disaster affects their organization, which could take place anytime, anywhere. Geologically, Mother Nature’s action has been experienced by way of volcanic eruptions, tsunami, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other phenomena. And then there are the manmade events that can wreak just as much havoc. Types of disasters and/or emergencies include: fire, lightning strikes, terrorism/bio-terrorism, gas leaks, structural damage, floods, bomb threats, civil disturbances, explosions, earthquakes, power outages, hurricanes, snowstorms, tornados, Hazmat incidents, and infectious disease outbreaks.

How a facility and its people fare in the event of a disaster may be predicated on the status of the preparedness plan and how it is positioned to respond to such calamities. Having some safety procedures in place to respond quickly may help save lives, property, and the organization’s well-being.


The first step is to create an Emergency Planning Team (EPT) to formulate policy and procedures for disaster planning. This team meets periodically to review processes, is a part of the health and safety committee, and conducts periodic tabletop exercises to ensure all parties understand their role in a disaster situation. The EPT should include the following personnel or their designated representatives: senior officer of the company, senior officer of the facility management (FM) unit, senior officer of the human resources unit, local community government official, communications officer, and specialty consultants (e.g. hazardous waste disposal experts).

It is important to develop a mission statement, one that explaining the company’s role and intent to provide safety to its employees and other building occupants. Under OSHA’s general duty clause, employers are obligated to provide safety and prevent harm to employees from recognized hazards.

When planning disaster response, it is prudent to assume the worst will occur—a total communications failure. When contingency planning, the EPT needs to plan how to continue communications in that type of event.


The three main areas of concern when developing a disaster plan are response, recovery, and restoration. The response part of the plan should outline immediate actions in reacting to an emergency. Health and life safety should be the most important concern. Removal of people from the affected area may be critical and should be implemented quickly and safely.

In the event that the disaster or emergency situation has caused severe injuries and/or fatalities, it will necessary to set up a makeshift triage (a French word meaning “to sort by priority”) area to prioritize victims according to the severity of their injuries. For example:

  • First aid must be applied to those who have broken bones, avulsions, or missing extremities.
  • Efforts should be made to sustain life until medical personnel arrive.
  • Victims who have died as a result of their injuries must be covered until medical personnel arrive.

It is a good idea to develop an emergency/disaster action chart to serve as a quick reference and reminder of what actions should be taken in these situations. This should be posted in employee populated areas (e.g. break rooms).

A list of employees certified in CPR and first aid should also be posted. This list can include the telephone extensions of the certified employees and can be posted throughout the facility. Additionally, it is important to post instructions directing employees to safety and shelter in the event of severe weather or other emergencies as designated by the chief or senior emergency coordinator.

Disaster kits should be located in various areas (at least one per floor) in places that do not require key access. The location of these kits should be included on the evacuation floor plan.

It will prove beneficial to train employees and other occupants to be responsive in emergency situations. Frequent mock drills for fire, tornadoes, earthquakes, and bomb threats help instill the process. The EPT should mandate a biannual safety in-service training and quiz to be taken by all employees and institute remedial training as needed.

Recovery And Restoration

The EPT should convene to develop plans for recovery and restoration that would minimize downtime. The focus of the EPT here is making provisions to continue business/operations as quickly as possible, evaluate efforts made in response, recovery, and restoration of the affected area, and generate processes for prevention and/or better preparedness for future emergency situations.

The EPT should also ensure there are guidelines for “critical, important, and inconvenient” events. These can range from a fire to an elevator malfunction, from loss of HVAC operation to major flooding. It is important to keep in mind that anticipated recovery timelines (ARTs) warrant pre-planning and should be assigned to areas needing recovery and restoration (e.g. Plan A = immediate recovery/no downtime; Plan B = up to four hours to recover).

After immediate response actions, the team should have a debriefing meeting with staff members of the affected location in an attempt to relieve panic, emotional disequilibrium, and stress and to institute further recovery and restoration measures. The EPT should share the results of the debriefing with company executives and the health and safety committee.

Key components and objectives of the restoration portion of a disaster plan should include:

  • continuation of a healthy and safe work environment;
  • minimal interruption to business and service operations;
  • resumption of critical operations within a specified time frame;
  • minimal financial loss; and
  • assurance to all stakeholders that the organization is functional.

Restoration efforts include having contingency plans in place to continue business. The EPT members should ask themselves these questions:

  • Who should be notified in the event the facility is closed due to an emergency, and what is the notification process?
  • Where can temporary space be established? Is there an alternate organization site that can be used?
  • How will phone service be restored?
  • How will furniture and equipment be replaced or repaired?
  • How will mail services continue?
  • Are there guidelines in place for partial or total loss of the facility?
  • Are hotel meeting rooms an option? Can employees work from home?

A Resource Management Annex is one of the most important pieces of a disaster plan. It serves as a resource to many services personnel may need to aid in restorative efforts.

The Annex will contain vendor information (for personnel agencies, communication equipment, vehicles, plumbing, electrical services, carpenters, pumps, heavy equipment, first aid supplies, food, generators, realtors, computers, furniture, office equipment, janitorial services, flooring, security services, locksmiths, HVAC services, snow removal, etc.). Vendor contact information should include account numbers and 24 hour emergency numbers. It is a good idea for fms to let vendors know they are included in the Annex; this should help expedite needed services.

When developing and implementing a disaster recovery plan, it is important to ensure that:

  • procedures are documented, distributed, and understood;
  • personnel knows when and how to respond to emergency situations;
  • personnel are trained and procedures are routinely practiced;
  • the health and safety of personnel are protected;
  • property and equipment are preserved;
  • risk and liability are minimized;
  • back up systems are in place;
  • systems are inspected, assessed for damage, and evaluated in terms of what is required to put them back into service;
  • appropriate agencies are notified (e.g. emergency response, insurance, regulatory);
  • community, government, vendor, and supplier resources are assessed for potential roles in restoration;
  • systems are tested and inspected to confirm operational capacity and status; and
  • provisions are made to prevent further loss due to vandalism, theft, accidents, and exposure to dangerous elements.

Disasters come in many forms, and it is virtually impossible to be completely ready for every situation that may affect a facility. However, with comprehensive planning, fms and their colleagues can implement systems and guidelines to mitigate impact.

Rankin is a facility manager with Chicago, IL-based Children’s Memorial Research Center (