Emergency and Disaster Planning
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Planning for emergencies and disasters is a little different from planning for safety and security. However, the key is to plan and prepare responses to emergencies before they happen.
Emergency plans are complex and require valuable input from several different resources. Forming an emergency management team or safety committee is advisable; each member must have specific responsibilities. The following excerpts are from IREM’s publication, Before Disaster Strikes: Developing an Emergency Procedures Manual, Third Edition (IREM Copyright 2005):
Emergency Management Team
The Emergency Management Team will carry out the emergency plan and take immediate action to assist occupants, lead them to safety, and help secure the property. Depending on the size and staffing of the property, this team should consist of the property manager/team leader, the on-site management staff, the administrative and maintenance staff, and, in some cases, occupants of the property. In a high-rise office building, for example, tenants’ employees may be involved in evacuation procedures. The types of roles and responsibilities assigned to tenants’ employees may include some or all of the following:
- Fire warden or area captain: This person coordinates the evacuation process for a particular floor or a specific area of the building. An assistant fire warden or area captain may also be appointed so there will be a backup if the primary person is not available.
- Floor leader: This person makes sure everyone knows where stairwells are and is responsible for orderly evacuation of his or her work area. The assigned individual may represent a single tenant on a floor or an entire multi-tenant floor. In some situations, there may be more than one floor leader for a tenant or floor, or the floor leader and fire warden functions may be combined.
- Searcher: There is usually more than one searcher who makes sure all areas of a floor, including rest rooms, have been evacuated. The emergency procedures manual may require those who work in private offices to close their doors as they leave, but this responsibility may be assigned to the searchers. To indicate that a room or enclosed area has been checked, a Post-it® note or other easily removable adhesive label may be applied on the closed door about 12 inches above the floor.
- Stairwell monitor: On each floor, there would be one monitor for each stairwell to ensure that people evacuating a floor stay to one side so that firefighters can also use the stairwells. These monitors should prevent people from entering a stairwell that is filled with smoke, directing them to another way out.
- Elevator monitor: In a building with multiple banks of elevators, it may be appropriate to assign a monitor on each floor for each bank of elevators that stops there. This monitor is responsible to direct people away from the elevators. It is important to keep people from entering elevators because (1) they might not work at all or (2) a working elevator might stop on a burning floor because a heat-sensitive call button was activated. In an emergency, elevator service should be stopped immediately, and the elevators should be returned to the group floor for use by firefighters (if appropriate).
- Handicap aide: A tenant that employs a number of disabled workers may need several handicap aides; on a floor where there are no disabled workers, there may be no need for such an aide. Handicap aides are responsible for moving disabled workers to safe areas in stairwells where they can be rescued by firefighters. Building management should ask tenants to provide detailed information about their employees who are disabled—including their names, the location of their work space in the tenant’s premises, and the nature of their disability—to assist in emergency evacuation planning for the tenant and for the building. (Note: Information about disabilities should be considered confidential and made available to members of the Emergency Management Team only.)
Although this approach is more likely to be used in a high-rise office building, the same principle may be applied at a large residential property where resident volunteers might assume specific roles as appropriate.
Tenants’ employees who are assigned to specific roles will need to be trained—and periodically retrained—so they will be prepared to respond when evacuation is necessary. They also need to be clearly identified as team members during an evacuation. Colored T-shirts or baseball caps with the property name and the name of the team have been used successfully.
- The emergency plan should also identify a support team that comprises certain specialists who will not respond to every emergency at the property but may be called on for backup assistance. This team may include some or all of the following: Contractors and suppliers, including electricians, plumbers, elevator and HVAC contractors, boardup services, and glass companies
- Disaster recovery contractors specifically trained and equipped to minimize loss and fast-track restoration of the building and contents
- The building’s architect and structural, mechanical, and electrical engineers
- Utility company representatives
- Police and fire department representatives, possibly including hazardous materials and bomb/arson specialists
- Representatives from the local building department
- Contract security services
- Representatives from the property’s insurance company
- Attorneys for the property owner and manager
- Resident and/or commercial tenant representatives
- Government and charitable agencies
- A consultant or representative from a disaster restoration firm
- A professional public relations representative
- A representative of the firm whose communication systems and equipment are used in the building
- The on-site staff of adjacent properties
Creating an Emergency Plan
When developing an emergency plan:
- Identify applicable federal, state, and local regulations such as environmental regulations, fire codes, seismic safety codes, transportation regulations, zoning regulations, and occupational safety and health regulations as well as management’s corporate policies.
- Determine which entrance the responding agency or public units will use.
- Determine where and to whom agencies will report.
- Determine how public and agency officials will be identified. What kind of identifications will authorities require to allow key personnel into the facility during a crisis?
- Determine the needs of disabled and non-English speaking persons. Assign tenant or emergency team “partners” to these persons to assist them in evacuation.
- Consider stocking and maintaining safety equipment and emergency supplies.
- Identify critical system shut down procedures.
OSHA recommends that, at a minimum, your plan should include the following:
- A preferred method for reporting fires and other emergencies
- An evacuation policy and procedure
- Emergency escape procedures and route assignments, such as floor plans, workplace maps, and safe refuge areas
- Names, titles, departments, and telephone numbers of people both inside and outside the company who should be contacted for additional information or explanation of duties and responsibilities under the emergency plan
Other considerations for a plan follow:
- Identification of an alternate site as a communication center in the event of a fire or explosion
- A secure, on- or off-site location to store originals or duplicate copies of company records, legal documents, employee emergency contact lists, etc.
- Plans about the alarm system and emergency communication devices
- Specification of conditions that warrant an evacuation
- The chain of command, including who can declare an evacuation
- A system to account for people after an evacuation
- Strategies for handling hazardous materials. No matter what kind of business is conducted at a facility, the potential risk always exists for an emergency involving hazardous material such as flammable, explosive, toxic, noxious, corrosive, biological, oxidizable, or radioactive substances. If hazardous materials are routinely used or stored on the premises, the property manager or maintenance supervisor can find out more information about handling these substances and preparing for emergencies by contacting the local OSHA office.
- Work with tenants to help them understand the limits of property management
An essential part of a safety or emergency plan is to ensure that everyone knows about the plan. The plan should be written, and several copies should be distributed to key people and locations. Lists and vital directions should be written on a single page so they can be found quickly and easily. No one has time to rummage through a haphazard notebook during an emergency.
Sample tenant emergency procedures are available for download from the IREMFIRST Forms Database.