Disaster Preparation: Do Your Homework

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Disasters happen. And when lives and assets are on the line, the last question you and your property team should be asking is, “What do we do next?”  Herein, having an emergency game plan within reach and ready to go is critical to helping disaster responders provide a fast, effective, and thorough response.

“A lot of times in this industry, we’ll get the call after something has happened and arrive to find that no preparations have been taken by the client to help us understand what needs to be done,” says John Stephenson, specialist with FirstOnSite Restoration, emphasizing, “The fact is, disaster mitigation is very time sensitive. The longer an emergency goes on without a response, the higher the risk of injury or property damage is going to be.”

Truly, the real disaster response work begins before the alarms go off.  Through its own PREP (Priority Response Emergency Plan) program, the FirstOnSite team begins that work by sitting down with clients to uncover and address everything that needs to be known in an emergency scenario. That includes a building’s layout, access points, unique considerations, and who among its staff will be responsible for quarterbacking the emergency plan when an event occurs.

“We go through everything from top to bottom with our clients and follow-up with an on-site tour by our project manager, because they’re the one who is going to get that panicked phone call at 3 a.m. and they’ll need to know what they’re walking in to,” says Stephenson.

Preliminary walk-throughs like this are invaluable to an emergency plan. As well as helping disaster response project managers get a lay of the land, they fill in key blanks such as the location of back-up generators and water shut-off valves, details about security, and the size of the building’s floors.

“We want to have a good idea of the square footage of the floors so we can send that information to our project manager and their team when they’re one their way to a call.  That way, they’ll have an idea about how much equipment they’ll need in terms of air movers, vacuums, and other tools. There is definitely math and science involved in our approach, so knowing those measurements up front saves a lot of time,” notes Stephenson.

It’s equally important to tackle accessibility and clearance issues upfront. This ensures disaster responders aren’t losing valuable time trying to get onto the property and through the front door, or calling the wrong contacts for permission to access areas of the building.

Ultimately, adds Stephenson, emergency plans are built on good information and consistent communication – and that includes tenants: “Tenant input is very important in an emergency plan. A building could have upwards of 200 tenants, and they could all operate differently. For example, one of them might have million-dollar artwork hanging on their walls, while another might have a critical data centre in the middle of their floor. We need to know that going in, because those kinds of factors are going to change how we approach is the situation.”

Always Updating

An emergency plan is a living document. It can change with the arrival or departure of staff, the introduction of new building codes and procedures, and the success (or failure) of responses to previous disasters.

To that end, Stephenson advises property stakeholders to evaluate their plans at least once a year and as soon as possible following an event, insisting, “When you have an emergency, there’s always a follow-up. You need to review what you learned, what you can improve on, what procedures helped, and what got in the way, After that, it’s important to review your plan on an ongoing basis to make sure your contacts are up to date and that you aren’t using emergency procedures that didn’t work the last time around.”

Truth be told, it pays to be prepared. It’s not enough to act on instinct or long-forgotten procedures. It takes consultations with specialists who know what to expect and a plan that takes everyone and every detail into consideration.

“Emergency restoration companies like ourselves play an integral part in how property owners manage a disaster,” notes Stephenson, adding, “With programs like PREP, we’re becoming an integral part of their responses from the very start.”

FirstOnSite Restoration is a leading Canadian disaster restoration company, providing remediation, restoration, and reconstruction services nationwide, as well as for the US large loss and commercial market. For more information, visit www.firstonsite.ca.

First OnSite

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