Navigating Emergency Scenarios:   Tips for Facilities Teams to Stay Proactive

Navigating Emergency Scenarios:
Tips for Facilities Teams to Stay Proactive

With their up-close-and-personal knowledge of facilities, relationships with first responders and security team members, and daily interactions with the folks who live and work in our buildings, facility teams play an essential role in effective emergency preparedness.

But there are always ways to improve planning, communicating, and rehearsing key processes and protocols. Every building has a different vibe, layout and design, and peak periods of activity. Power outages, floods, and other calamities can take place any day, any time without warning, so preparation is one of the keys to accelerating response times.

Here are ways teams can accelerate processes and procedures.

Facility teams should develop and communicate clear and concise emergency protocols to team members, outlining specific roles and responsibilities, communication challenges, evacuation procedures and special actions. Regular training and drills should be a part of every emergency response plan.

“If you’re a safety officer, facility manager, or key decision-maker, the number one thing to do is to conduct an annual drill. Pick a scenario like a blackout and create a 96-hour plan,” said Clarisa Lemke, formerly the Director of Facilities Operations for Crothall Healthcare.

Having a reliable and efficient emergency communication system is essential for prompt response during emergencies. Leveraging tools such as mass notification systems, mobile apps and emergency platforms to quickly disseminate critical info will put you ahead of the curve, so you can be proactive rather than reactive.

“Update and document emergency response plans to reflect current team responsibilities,” said Lemke. “Who are the incident commanders? Who are the safety officers? Who’s the back-up CFO in case you need to create purchase orders for emergency equipment? All these details should be shared among team members to reflect currency.”

Lemke was in a situation at a skilled nursing home where the emergency plans weren’t updated so no one knew who the emergency manager was. There was a bad freeze, and her team couldn’t get water to the residents because the chain of command wasn’t clear. Responsiveness can get complicated when roles and responsibilities aren’t known to everyone. These details need to be documented.

Conduct regular inspections and maintenance. Proactive facility maintenance and inspections are key to identifying potential hazards. Fire safety systems, electrical infrastructure, HVAC systems, and emergency exits should be regularly inspected and tested.

“Test your generators and other equipment, and have that information well-documented,” she said. “You’ve got to understand how your equipment works. Do we have enough fuel in the generator?”

Take the time to develop strong relationships with utility companies and regulatory agencies to enhance situational awareness and coordinate response efforts. Lemke recommends getting FEMA certified. She said it’s the best thing she’s ever done. Getting certified took her about six months, and she was able to take classes and study while she was working. She learned valuable lessons about applying for aid and helping people who’ve lost their homes and businesses.

“Have a go bag ready in the event of an emergency,” said Lemke. “Include snacks like ramen, cheese and crackers, and a case of bottled water, along with a change of clothes. Are there resources in the cafeteria to feed staff and patients, if you’re in a healthcare facility?

Use technology to enhance emergency responsiveness, such as security cameras, smoke detectors, and motion sensors. With the right technology, mobile devices can be used to map and pin emergency equipment locations and share building plans with first responders, so they know what to expect before they pull up on-site.

Lemke believes its critical to understand the building and consider how elderly or disabled people will be able to get downstairs. What if there are no elevators? Stairwells will fill up faster. Fire departments need to know these details.

Finally, emergencies and emergency response planning should be scalable. Events like floods in the basement might just require real-time updating and facility team involvement vs. earthquakes requiring a full incident command center.

Using mobile devices, anyone in an organization can document, share, and update critical emergency, personnel, equipment and building information 24/7/365. There’s deep value in creating a collective body of knowledge for your facility to enable anyone in your organization to help accelerate emergency responsiveness.

Sleep Better at Night with Campus Information Easily Accessible, an interview with the Dean of Facilities & Facilities Planning at College of the Sequoias, dives deeper into accelerating emergency responsiveness with the aid of ARC Facilities.

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