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By Jeff Revoy
Chief Operations Officer
In times of crisis, well-defined action plans are the difference between catastrophic loss and a best-case scenario. In the workplace, facilities managers are the first line of defense for emergencies. A well-developed facility manager emergency plan is paramount to surviving what Mother Nature, among others, throws at you.
Developing an action plan is far from easy, considering all the systems a facility manager handles. Tackling this monumental task involves breaking down the workplace into its most fundamental elements and planning for each of them.
Start with the three main aspects of facilities management emergency preparedness when developing an emergency plan:
- Assess vulnerabilities: Vulnerabilities are opportunities for catastrophic failure. Fire, flood, power outages, inclement weather, terrorism, and natural disasters are all catalysts. Identifying how your facilities are vulnerable in these situations requires a thorough assessment.
- Define roles: Who is responsible for what in an emergency? Delegate specific tasks to individuals equipped to execute on them. Identify workplace leaders and assign emergency actions accordingly. Defined roles make for decisive action at times when it’s needed most.
- Communicate the plan: Having an action plan is useless if no one knows what that plan entails. With emergency plan in hand, communicate it. A top-down approach is usually best. Inform those with defined roles and in leadership positions. Then, publish the most basic, straightforward iteration for employees. Practice makes perfect, too. Hold drills and exercises to acquaint employees with the plan.
These steps are the framework for how to approach an emergency action plan. Developing the plan itself involves drilling deeper into the vulnerabilities, necessary roles, and communication required to adequately protect people, assets, and the business in a moment of crisis.
Developing the plan
The process of planning for facility emergencies is relatively linear. Structure is essential in preventing chaos, so formulating an action plan along well-defined guidelines is key. The four essential pillars of any emergency plan are:
- 1. Track personnel: Employees are your most-valuable asset—and the focus of an emergency action plan. Getting them out of harm’s way and keeping them safe trumps everything else. To do this, facilities managers need an up-to-date accounting of all employees, where they sit, whom they report to, and their contact information. Not only does this prove useful in delegating duties, it creates accountability and a system of record.
- Who are department leaders and supervisors?
- Who are subordinates and whom do they report to?
- What systems of traceability are in place to account for personnel?
- 2. Identify mission-critical systems: What business systems are most important and/or most vulnerable? At what level of operability do they become endangered? Most importantly, what systems are already in place to avert crisis? HVAC, plumbing, data systems, electrical, communications equipment, and infrastructure are starting points. Once identified, facilities managers can create solutions for potential threats to these mission-critical systems.
- Have a backup generator in the event of a massive power outage
- Install overhead fire suppression systems in a server room
- Create off-site backups or cloud storage for critical data
- 3. Track assets: Tracking assets is all about accountability—specifically for insurance claims. If a fire ravages the fourth floor, what assets are at risk? What is the value of those assets? Conversely, what action plans are in place to protect computers, printers, servers, furniture, and other assets? Without compromising worker safety, identify opportunities for mitigating damage to assets in a catastrophe.
- Use an Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) platform to track assets
- Insure and itemize high-value assets
- Create safeguards to protect high-value assets or minimize risk
- 4. Define emergency actions: Emergency actions are the duties assigned to leaders in an emergency. Who leads their department to the emergency exit and takes a head count outside? Who’s responsible for keeping records of high-value assets? How do you ensure an emergency action plan is properly followed? Once you define the necessary actions, assign them to responsible individuals and make sure they’re understood.
- Develop individual action plans for leaders that detail their duties
- Keep essential individuals included in all action plan communications
- Give key stakeholders accessibility to keys, badge permissions, etc.
Every plan should answer a simple question: Who is responsible for what when X happens? The where and why are unknown variables until an emergency arises. A good action plan will adapt to them.
Adapting your plan is crucial
An appropriate facility management emergency response is always evolving. Just like the workplace ebbs and flows, grows and expands, so should your emergency plan. Reassess your plan on a quarterly basis (or even more frequently). Hopefully, an emergency never hits your workplace—but if one does, you’ll be prepared and can minimize damage.
Keep reading: How to know if your facility management software is the best for your organization and learn if it is right for urgent situations.