Written by: Steve Herron, Zeller Realty Group
This article was written in August 2017 for the Q4 newsletter.
It is late August, and the weather reports are becoming more ominous with the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Harvey. All along the gulf coast region, property owners and managers of real estate in all different classes, along with the public, in the path of the storm brace for what is sure to be catastrophic losses. As owners are scrambling to test the knowledge and preparedness of their respective management teams, how many were prepared? How many scrambled? How many thought their planning was up to the task and found out otherwise? Most importantly, how well prepared is your team for an emergency?
Of course, for all of us enjoying life in the upper Midwest, the likelihood of a hurricane is, well, unheard of (as it should be)! What about other events more typical of this market such as wind damage, tornadoes, fire, frozen sprinkler lines, power outages, etc.? Emergency Preparedness is often thought of as the least favorite aspect of our roles, yet in responding to an emergency, it is the most important action you can take to protect the property from damage and the public from injury. In the end, you will never know how good your team and your plan is until you have been personally tested.
As we all know, or at least should know by now, BOMA International is the leading expert on Emergency Preparedness. They have many publications on the topic available for purchase. Your own companies undoubtedly have program templates and resources for use while developing and refining for your own asset. So, the real question to you is, when was the last time you reviewed, updated, and practiced your team’s emergency preparedness plan? My guess would be…it’s been a while.
As you contemplate where you stand in the spectrum of highly prepared to just getting started, I would like you to minimally think about those aspects that are, from my perspective, most critical. If you can manage those aspects well, then the rest of your plan should come together more easily. For simplicity, I have broken the list down to three major components: Communications, Resources, and Building Information/Reference.
Communication – The hallmark of any solid emergency preparedness program is the manner and depth of communication. Information, particularly during and shortly after an event, should flow quickly. Once mission critical decisions are made with various departments and local authorities, rapid dissemination of that information needs to take place. How are you set up for communications to your executive leadership, and what about your on-site team? Do you have ready access to all contact information needed, especially for tenants?
There are many systems in place now that allow a single message to be sent to all your desired contacts via office phone, cell phone, text and email. It truly is critical to employ such technology in a manner that allows you and your team more time to make decisions and less time manually calling all parties. Periodically test the system of communication internally or with external personnel to make sure that your system is working optimally. Our firm utilizes Mir3 through our Angus WO system with great success.
Resources – Beyond communication, having the appropriate resources will largely predict your success of effectively managing an emergency. Our BOMA members represent a wide and deep field of consultants, contractors, and service providers that are capable of responding emergencies of all types. All successful plans will include a listing of those groups (General Construction, Fire Life/Safety, Plumbing, Electrical, Building HVAC and Automation, Glass, Clean Up and Restoration, Environment, Legal, Insurance, Public Relations etc.) and should be available electronically and/or hard copy in order to be readily accessible for use at all times by the on-site team. It is highly recommended to initially meet and then speak from time to time with these groups to ensure correct contact information is maintained. Calling a number after hours that is not typically answered or reaching someone who is not familiar with your project will only slow down your response efforts. Again, speed and efficiency of execution is key!
Building Information/Reference – Finally, assemble the facts and information about your building and its systems. This should be the easiest to gather as it traditionally exists in multiple forms at your property (leasing teams ask about it all the time)! This includes among others: Life Safety system, elevator controls, locations of transfer switches, access/entry points, locations of emergency response equipment within the building, hazardous material locations, and most importantly, utility disconnects and critical valves! As I write this article, I recall an event wherein 2,000 gallons of glycol spilled on the main floor of my project in the middle of a business day as a result of the inability to locate a shutoff valve. We found it eventually…behind a wall…which was opened up with an axe, ultimately requiring a massive cleanup effort. But hey, that is a story for another day. The point is that you must have critical detail about your building assembled in a format that is readily accessible in order to react quickly.
Preparing for an emergency, whether you have some time like those facing the prospect of a hurricane, or you are surprised by an issue in the middle of the night (which is more typical of what occurs in our market), is generally not sexy or fun. Think about the consequences of not being prepared: the challenges from ownership, the extra time in disseminating information, frustration of not having the right resources on site to assist you, and confusion when not having the appropriate references for those responding to your emergency. Save yourself and your owner time and frustration tomorrow by focusing on Communication, Resources, and Building Information/Reference when reviewing, refining, and exercising your plan today! Good luck and utilize BOMA International’s website for reference and membership to assist you in that process